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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

sons, and daughters, and grandsons, and love

imageI’m one of those weird people who is happiest when giddy with loving folks. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, since I get considerable flak over it from family (are you high on happy pills??). But it’s true, if I’m honest — I’m far better at loving than being loved.

Probably a lot of us are like that — slightly uncomfortable w/ being loved. Waiting for the “it’s all a mistake” shoe to drop. Maybe it’s why almost everyone loves a wiggly puppy, a squirmy kitten, a babbling baby. When they love us, there’s no artifice or fear.

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So imagine my heaven this week: I get to spend an ENTIRE WEEK just loving my elder son, my wonderful DIL, and my perfect grandson. I don’t even need lessons — one of the few times when my beginner’s heart feels absolutely competent.

I realise there are people whose families are sad disappointments. That would not be me. My sons, DIL, and nieces and nephews — the entire younger generation of our family, really — each have myriad wonderful gifts. Even when they sometimes make decisions that leave me thinking hunh… really? I’m crazy about them. It’s all I can do not to nuzzle on them like I do my grandson — they’re still that amazing.image

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But  you can’t do that w/ elegantly dressed elder sons, or impeccably competent younger ones. Or with practically perfect DILs. At best, you can give them HUGE hugs, leaning into them and counting your blessings. (I recommend you do this inaudibly; they look at you weird if you count aloud.)

Now with Trin, my grandson, I don’t have to worry. Yet another reason to treasure this week I’m ostensibly ‘helping out.’ My son is recovering from flu, my DIL has a conference half-way across the country, and who you gonna call? GG! Whose beloved (the granddad) is fine with sharing me, knowing I’m in 7th heaven hugging, nuzzling Trin, cooking and cooing and visiting and just loving.

And that’s just fine — I don’t even care if Trin is in the throes of ‘stranger!’ It’s not about him loving me anyway ~

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Humanities, and what makes life worth living

NEH logoI spent two days this past week w/ humanitarians. Now, they wouldn’t call themselves that. They would say they’re worker bees, if they said anything at all. Not folks to tout their own horns, humanities board members. And especially not in Oklahoma.

But these very busy worker bees — directors, CEOs, vice-presidents, teachers, professors, lawyers, & more — took a full WORK DAY to come to a meeting talking about the humanities in our state, specifically our Oklahoma Humanities Council.

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Wow. That is a gift beyond even $$ (they also each give generously to the Council, as well). And you know why? Because through the day (and the previous evening’s dinner), I heard over and over: what we do is important. The humanities are important.humanities

What’s ironic is that when I mention the humanities to family, friends, and colleagues, there is all too often a blank stare. Folks confuse us with the arts (the arts are part of us; we aren’t only the arts), or with some of the several individual disciplines we include: architecture, art & art history, classics, east Asian languages and cultures, English, history, linguistics, literature, medicine, music, philosophy, social sciences, religious studies, theater… and I’ve probably forgotten something!

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Can you imagine life w/out any one of these? Much less ALL? Because in many small Oklahoma towns — and in towns all over the country — if the Federation of State Humanities Councils didn’t receive monies from the NEH, there would be no humanities programming.

humanities 4This year, programs — at least in Oklahoma — include book talk (lots!) at libraries, covering every topic you can imagine: the history and lore of Route 66, women’s autobiographies, detective fiction, the ethnic diversity of America, the cowboy, the American Civil War, Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl, food literature… Another long and fascinating list!

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There’s also literature and medicine, the Oklahoma state poet laureate, and many small grants to communities to fund community ideas for programs highlighting specific interests. What is more important than human feelings in the operating room? Or poetry programs engaging our young? How can I decide better than you — in your community — what you want and need?

When people ask me why the humanities are important, and why we should continue funding them in an increasingly tighter budgetary climate, think of these questions, but I respond with another question. It’s one I think is only answered by the humanities, humanities 3not by business, or technology, or the STEM subjects (much as I love them). Only a book, a painting, a piece of music…a tussle w/ philosophy, or difference, or another culture…an account from history, or new info on the settlement of the western hemisphere, will help us answer it:

What does it mean to be human? That’s what the humanities do, fundamentally. They offer us the tools for each of us to answer that question in our own beginner’s hearts. And that’s why funding them — advocating for them — is critical to all of us.

 

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writing, travel, and trains: a hopeful love letter

traveling the worldThis meme is sooo me that my niece posted it to my FB page. And just in case you’re wondering, it’s NOT too much to ask! But it does seem to be a lot to get. :)

However, I’m applying for a new kind of writer’s residency, and this describes it to the letter! In case you aren’t familiar with writing residency programs, they mostly require a couple of things: a product, staying put for a week or more, and some kind of interview/ reading/ public event. This one? Not so much.

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It’s courtesy of Amtrak. Yup: that Amtrak, the one with rails. I saw the article first on The Wire, in a piece by Ben Cosman about two writers who were offered writing residences…on Amtrak trips! How coooool is that?

train map bangkok to singapore

train route from Bangkok to Singapore

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Please understand: I have adored trains since I was a small child, listening to the trains calling outside the window of my grandmother’s north Tulsa guest bedroom. I would lay awake in the small twin bed where I ‘slept over,’ and imagine myself on a train, going almost anywhere.

Later, I would read any book I could get that was set on a train. And when, at the age of 16, my father decided our family would travel, via train, over Thanksgiving break from Bangkok (where we lived) to Singapore, I was about as thankful as I can remember being on any Thanksgiving ever. It was glorious.

After I met my husband, we traveled through Europe, caught trains for the day to have lunch in another country, took trains whenever and wherever we could. And when my sons were small, we took trains from LA to San Diego to see the whales. And from Vancouver, B.C. north, just because.

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amtrak starlight trainI’ve ridden Amtrak from San Diego to Seattle, and written the whole way. Something there is, to misquote Frost, that loves a train. Writers certainly do. My husband and I have taken the train from LA to Portland, and I sat in our sleeper car just writing. For an entire day, hardly stopping to eat.

A few years ago, my younger son & I took the Amtrak Starlight Coast route the other way, from Portland — where he lives — down to LA, where his aunt lives. For hours I sat in the observation lounge, looking out over the landscape as it shape-shifted through the window. Noah read a graphic novel on his computer, and I wrote tanka, a blog post, poetry, and just jotted notes in my journal.

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I’m as happy for writers as I’ve been in years, knowing that some of them will have the opportunity to make the visceral connection between smooth sway of rails and flow of words on page or screen. amtrak train loungeThe enforced quiet, the overheard conversations of strangers, even the regional food & wine served in the first-class dining car… All are food for the writer’s imagination, freeing us from everyday routine.

Denise Levertov once said that in certain ways writing is a form of prayer. For someone trying, always, to teach her beginner’s heart not to leap to conclusions, not to rant, but to encourage and affirm, writing is certainly a spiritual practice. At least for me. Even the lists I bullet-point in my journal — what to pack, the weather forecast, what to see & do — for my trip tomorrow to  VA to see my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are freighted with my anticipation, my gratitude that I’m able to make this trip.

Unfortunately, it won’t be by train, since Amtrak doesn’t come in to Tulsa (yet!). But I’m hopeful that another train trip is in my future. And I guarantee that I’ll be writing for most of it, whenever that is.

 

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why it seems like open season on my cousin’s grandsons

racism ruins livesMy cousin Sally is white. Her grandsons are mixed race — their father is black, Sally’s daughter is also white. Each of the culturally sanctioned murders of black men lately is a bludgeon to Sally’s heart. As it should be for all of us.

When George Zimmerman went free of murdering  Trayvon Martin, and Michael Dunn’s jury hung over his killing of Jordan Davis, every family member of a young black men shuddered. In America, as Bruce Springsteen sang, you can get killed just for living in your American skin. And if you don’t believe that, you aren’t paying attention.

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Recently a 15-year-old girl — Adrian Broadway — shot by Willie Noble for egging his car. Willie Noble will probably get the book — he’s black. But white Michael Dunn, who pulled in next to a group of black youths listening to loud music? And then shot Jordan Davis for refusing to turn his music down? He’s free on that racism killscharge — hung jury. Dunn will serve time — a minimum 20-year sentence for shooting at each of the other three youths. But those sentences may be served concurrently, if the judge so decides. Technically? With ‘good behaviour,’ Dunn may only serve 10 years for murdering a 17-year-old kid who basically angered Dunn. Wow. In Oklahoma, a woman got 12 years just for marijuana possession, and so far no ‘good behaviour’ clause.

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You can look all of this up. I’m sick at heart re-reading these cases. While I realise that living on the inside of a racist heart must be terrible, it doesn’t (usually) kill you. And it DOES kill others. The bottom line doesn’t change: in America, there’s an open season on my cousin Sally’s grandsons. Which is beyond wrong. And I don’t know what to do about it…

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