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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

a day with teachers

 

via google

via google

 I spent much of yesterday w/ my favourite people: teachers who write. I confess to a relatively indiscriminate adoration of most teachers, but teachers who write are at the top of any list.

Yesterday, I was back at Writing Project, listening & learning with teachers pre-kindergarten through university. We heard from a teacher who ran a writing center for elementary students (yep: even first graders!), and a Ph.D. botanist who wrote a blog making all kinds of science interesting (even carbon, & the size of the arcane telomere).

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learning

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This is why I LOVE teaching — you’re always learning. My friend Ben says when he stops learning, he’ll stop teaching. I agree. It’s not even about the students (true confessions!), much as I love them; it’s about the learning.

I’m a learning geek. I don’t even care what it is,: if you know cool stuff about it, I’ll listen. As my wonderful younger son responded to my blog the other day, I don’t play music much anymore, but my old conductor in school used to say he wasn’t training professional musicians, but lifetime lovers of music. I love hearing people talk about their art at that level, even if I don’t understand all of it. Me too, Noah. I get totally involved when people are passionate about art, or science, or engineering, or cooking, or hiking, or… :)

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teacher balloonsTeachers are the best at this. Our students teach us daily — through their own passions, their own interests. Through their needs, as well: I knew very little about situated learning until I began to teach adults (although it sure would have come in handy when I was teaching developmental language arts!). I learned about learning styles because I could tell I wasn’t reaching all my students. Sure ’nuff, I had almost an entire classroom of non-traditional learners, many of them needing very different strategies to help them succeed.

That said? Yesterday was, ultimately, about fun. Re-connecting with old friends, making new ones. It was good ol’ community. And again: teachers are some of the best at that, as well.

Here’s to the maligned teachers of America. You sooo rock!

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poetry, and waiting for a new passport

via Google

via Google

I won’t need a passport for years. Unfortunately. Because finally, I’m thinking I can do what I’ve always wanted: list ‘poet’ as my occupation!

Although I’ve been publishing poetry for years (and teaching it, as well), there’s always been a ‘real’ job that I felt honour-bound to list: teacher, journalist, academic. Come to think of it, I couldn’t list ‘journalist,’ either — we were going to countries where journalists are NOT welcome.

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But now? What I do, almost daily, is think about/ write/ talk about/ read (sometimes about) poetry. I think it’s time! I can say I’m a poet! And yes, I have occasionally said that — but usually in jest, or just to rile folks. You would not believe how oddly folks respond to poets.

So: the beginner’s heart point to this men-in-hats digression (you don’t know that story? I’ll tell you sometime)…? It’s all about the change. Buddhism, life, passport entries — they all change. Dukkha, remember? The impermanence of all but Buddha nature/ Buddha mind. Not only do the things around us change, but so do we. Sometimes in huge ways, like going from ‘journalist’ to ‘wife’ (always safe, that one, at least in fundamentalist arenas) to ‘poet.’

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Of course, I could list ‘grandmother,’ another new career I’m crazy about. And yet I’ve done nothing to become an ecstatic grandmother — my wonderful son & DIL have provided me that avocation. Poetry? I’ve worked at it. It’s my practice.

So right now, I’m basking in this ephemeral moment: the new chapbook, a workshop tomorrow, a couple more poems accepted, $50 coming, and the knowledge that this is all I want to list as a ‘job.’ No matter where I’m going. I’ve earned it.

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speaking poetry

via Google

via Google

I’m reading an old friend’s poetry manuscript. Something I adore — reading a manuscript as a writer, trying to see what the poems want to say, what the music is telling me. It’s the language of poetry, and I don’t get to speak it nearly often enough.

Because I often teach at the beginner level, working to make poetry less mysterious, more accessible, the kind of conversation I’m having over my friend J’s MS is rare. Yes, I can discuss line breaks w/ a newbie. I can even speak of the way a kind of repetition (anaphora, in case you wonder) works in a poem.

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But newbies don’t usually write chapbooks, much less books. So you can’t discuss the ways in which poems become like movements in a symphony: each part moving from the one before to the inexorable close. Or maybe the single poems are like musical instruments in an orchestra… The metaphors are always musical, because the language of poetry is sooo close to that first language, song.music

What I can’t tell newbies so they get it — they just haven’t written enough yet — is that poems have a kind of logic to them, like certain chords follow other chords, or harmonies between notes. J gets it — she’s a gifted poet, growing better over the past years.

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One of the sig files I use in my email is a quote from a beloved poet, Denise Levertov: In certain ways writing is a form of prayer. For me, it is. It’s practice, as I’ve said elsewhere — practice for beginner’s heart. Because poetry is about observing, as much as writing: you have to watch to  have something worth saying. But it’s also about trying to communicate, trying to make apoint. Poets are the ultimate activists, even when they refuse to acknowledge it. They have something to say, and they want folks to pay attention.

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via Google

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So they dress their points up in Sunday language and imagery, and send them into the world. And sometimes, poets’ prayers are answered. Mostly? It’s enough (for me!) to get to talk to other poets. Although the $50 I made today on two poems also is nice… :)

 

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Happy Father’s Day

Daddy with BuickFathers are odd creatures. At least the ones I know are — not any single mold, no real unifying characteristics. Some are very loving — nurturing, even — others are sometimes cranky. While yet others are newly fledged, and learning to fly (my elder son, for instance… :)).

My own father remains tall and trim in my mental picture of him. Standing in front of the family car, lovingly polished by Hà , the Việtnamese chauffeur. I don’t remember ever seeing my father wash a car, although I watched him clean and polish his rifles and pistols many times. The banana fragrance of gun oil sends me back in time: I’m 10 years old, and my father’s guns & trophies are stored in my bedroom. The trophies are tarnished, the guns pristine. My father’s values…

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Other pictures are my sisters’ favourites. They show the young soldier, the older officer. The father of his first two daughters, my sister & me. Some are of the newly married couple — my beautiful mother and my very handsome father, he grinning into the camCliffordNathanera, she turned in animation to someone outside the viewfinder. Typical.

Other fathers — my dearly beloved father-in-law, for one — are different from my own. I was never sure — only at times — that my father really loved me. Of course he did, but as a child, I wasn’t certain. With my father-in-law, that was never in question. He was proud of me, and I knew it. Proud of my degrees, proud of my children. Proud that I was part of the family. And it was obvious in ways my own, far more verbal, father rarely conveyed.

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Daddy with newborn Nathan in hospitalBoth were wonderful with their baby grandson — at least until senile dementia claimed my own father’s memory. Another reason I am so grateful for my FIL, who took little boys on tractor rides, and taught them guns (at the age of 4!) and bows & arrows and squirrel hunting.

So much of what my sons know of fathering they learned from Dad (my FIL), not Daddy, my own father. And from their father, my wonderful husband, for whom Dad was the ultimate rôle model.

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Now, as I watch my elder son fathering my grandson, I think about how little we laud fathers, and their difficult, too-invisible contributions. How my husband took over the 4-year-old as I nursed and babied his little brother. How Dad grandfathered actively while Glen was overseas, so that our two sons never lacked for father figures. How Daddy taught us that a marriage takes two people, and that he too worked at it.

Today is a day to remember the fathers in our lives: our own, our parents’ fathers, our sons and husbands and lovers. A day to offer them recognition for all they do: not simply paying the bills (Dad! My ATM!), but helping us figure out all the minutiae of daily living. And being there through all of it.Glen, N&N & Estrella, OKC bombing memorial, Portland2

Thanks, guys — you’re each of you completely different, and totally irreplaceable. I love you.

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