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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

plain ol’ human (loving)kindness

last day at comp 2012This is a picture of the last day of the last undergrad class I taught at OSU. You won’t get the joke, so I’ll tell you. Bear with me: :)

Every day there was a note in our classroom saying, Please put the chairs back in rows. And every day my students left them in the circle we sit in whenever I teach. N.B.: I’m a HUGE believer in circles. They disrupt the wrong kind of hierarchy, putting everyone in eye reach of everyone else. And it’s very hard to text or just space out in a circle. You’re visible.

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After I explained to my students the first day that we will ALWAYS sit in circles, they decided everyone else should, as well. Since I also teach that you are in control of your education, and told the students that putting the room together was their ‘job’ each day (as is pulling up all window shades if we’re lucky enough to get windows), they decided it was NOT their job to ‘enable’ rows.

The last day, as a statement, they decided to do this. And here’s where folks don’t always agree with me: I thought it was enchanting. They took total control of this room, and dominated it! This was the kind of protest that hurts no one (well, I did feel a bit bad about janitorial, but I also know they probably got HUGE mileage in the lunch room from the story).

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This is all by way of saying that every class has its own stories, and this is only one from this particular semester. In that same class was a young man I won’t name. He was having a very difficult time — recently divorced, joint custody, an ‘away’ job, and trylovingkindnessing to carry FT classes. We spoke often about how hard it is to be a returning student (I was one as well). How hard it is to single-parent (I did that, too). And just how school may not be your main priority sometimes. Nor should it be.

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It’s just school is the mantra I teach all my classes. Not your life. Not your family. Not who and what you are. Just school.

Today that very nice young man wrote me a note via FB. Thanking me for mentoring him through that semester, a rocky one, he remembers. And the funny thing? I did nothing unusual. Just listened to his life, and tried to be kind.  Just kind.

I was touched that my former student took the time to write. It brightened my day considerably. But it also saddens me, a bit, to think that lovingkindness is so unusual in so-called ‘higher ed’ these days that he felt fortunate. What does this say about what we value? Not, I think, what it should.

lovingkindness imageWhen did ‘rigour’ — a term often found in education these days — come to exclude plain  ol’ human kindness? When did we decide that testing and deadlines were more important than the student people who are in our classes? What will they learn from us if not how to be good people? What content area is more important than decency? Than what Buddhists (and many others) call lovingkindness?

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This vexes me no end, as my great-aunt Bonnie would say. She never went past 8th grade. But she knew far more — about life, about gardens, about children, about loving kindness — than anyone I know with a doctorate. She knew enough to realise that w/out kindness, education is a hollow promise, at best. I would rather have the note from my former student, and this picture of his classmates’ exuberant disobedience, than a letter from a dean, or an academic honcho. But then, I also found the pile of chairs enchanting ~

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(just??) breathing

story people breathing

The Story People

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Today’s meditation focus was why do I do this? Really.  Why sit? Why watch my breath? Why let noises come & go, feelings rise and fall, in rhythm (if I’m lucky!) with my breath? Why on earth would anyone take minutes from a hectic schedule (even in retirement!) and do this??

It’s a great question. And one I don’t think about frequently, unfortunately. What is there about meditation that is so important to American Buddhists? Because it’s not so much to the Buddhists I grew up with in Việt Nam and Thailand, at least not among ordinary folks like me.

So why do it?

It’s like writing, actually — and today’s the day (National Day on Writing celebration, since it actually fell on Sunday)  many of us are considering the writing corollary to this question: why write?

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I do each for very similar reasons, the impetus for this blog, in fact. I meditate to be more loving, more open to the people I love and the people I can’t stand. That doesn’t go away just because you’d like it to, irritation with and dislike of folks. Nor does wanting to tell people you love how you think they should live their lives :). Think: mothers…

I write to process these feelings. For me, it’s a form of meditation. A way to explore how I can look beneath/beyond my angry attached mind and be … well, better. Larger of heart. Calmer of mind.

That’s why this little story from The Story People spoke to me. Because it’s SO true! I’m meditating daily, again (well, except for this crazy past weekend!), and now I find myself obsessing over THAT!

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Sheesh. The mind is a seriously odd thing, isn’t it? But I guess it’s better to obsess over my writing and meditation practice than rant about politics. You might try it: take a couple of deep breaths, and just sit. Listen to the sounds of where you are. Feel the rise & fall of your breath. Face it: it’s a lot simpler than writing. Although you certainly can do that too….

 

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Nimrod Saturday!

imageThis is the weekend of the Nimrod conference for writers. AND it’s the ‘prequel’ to National Day on Writing. What serendipity, huh?

The NDW’s theme is ‘write2connect,’ as I mentioned yesterday. And all day today, that’s what I did: connect. With writers, wanna-be writers, student writers, apprentice writers, and the readers who love us. Because what you may not know about writers is that despite the solitary nature of the art, we need communities.

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That’s what Nimrod does beautifully. Last night was a paean to Nimrod’s editor of 47 years, Fran Ringold. Today was a testament to the Nimrod family she has nurtured, and to her lasting legacy.

My husband asked me how it went, after I returned — exhausted! — from a day w/ writers. ‘Great!‘ I answered. It always is. Because in addition to the expected (nationally recognised poets, non-fiction writers, short story authors, & novelists), there is the lasting affection the Nimrod family have for each other.  As one of editorial board members (of longer than 35 years!) said, she’ll be back next year just for the hugs

Writing is a lonely business, all too often. But not at the Nimrod weekend. Everyone from the high school slam poet to the 90-year-old grandmother doing her memoir fits in (and this weekend we had both). One of the winners of the Nimrod Awards was a 22-year-old poet; the other winning poet was 74. That’s not unusual for us.

So as I gear up for National Day on Writing, I’m grateful for my writing family, Nimrod. And for my other writing family, the National Writing Project, which taught me about the National Day on Writing. Because at my house, EVERY day is writing day. It’s good to fit in with ‘normal’ people (e.g., non-writers) at least once a year.

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writers’ weekend

imageThis is a picture of an issue of my beloved Nimrod. It’s also (warning! self-advertising!) an issue I especially love, and not simply because I’m included within the pages.

It’s one of my favourites because even when I was very young, I loved older people. My very best friends were my old ladies: my grandmothers, my great-aunts, the old ladies we called Grandma who were no kin at all. But Grandma Shanks & Grandma Pietzel & Grandma Whisenhunt (only 3 of several) were part of my family. With stories as wonderful as their home cooking.

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I can live, I think sometimes, on stories. On poetry and song lyrics and music w/ words and the lightening quick detonation of a haiku or tanka. They feed me in ways only birds and light can, otherwise.

So to be going to the Nimrod Weekend today is HUGE! Tonight I get to sit with more than 100 readers & writers, listening to poets & fiction writers read. I get to catch up with some of my dearest friends, and the people who know a side of me I don’t often share with strangers: geeky writer chick. And tomorrow a WHOLE DAY of the same!

Because I’m NUTS about writing: learning about it, talking about it, teaching it, doing it. I can talk poetics and prosody until you fall out of your chair snoring. Or the nuances of line breaks. And don’t forget about things like voice, and movement, and lyric and to capitalise or not to capitalise and…Hopeless, I know. :)

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But our passions are what make our hearts our own. What we love chinese mirroris like a mirror showing who we are. Me? I’m a writer. Writing has been a life sustainer for me for many years, always an integral element of who I am. And Nimrod has been there for me since I was 18, sitting as a young poet writing sonnets in Nimrod Senior Editor Fran Ringold’s poetry class.

So to have Nimrod Weekend as part of the weekend ramp-up to National Day of Writing is beyond cool.  And since this year’s Nimrod theme is “Hunger & Thirst: Fulfilling Desire,” the Day of Writing theme “write2connect” is a perfect sequel.

This weekend, I’ll be feeding my writing hungers & thirsts. Drinking & eating my way through line after line of poetry & prose. All so that I can better connect. With the world of readers, with my own inner world, with beginner’s heart. How great is that?

 

 

 

 

 

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