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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

30 Days of Love: in praise of a mother-in-law

Mom at our wedding 2Today’s prompt from 30 Days of Love is to think of someone courageous, someone who deserves recognition for his or her  actions, even his or her life. Not simply because it’s her birthday, but because she has been like a 2nd mother to me, I’m nominating my mother-in-law.

When I met my husband-to-be, I was 18. Mom still looked a lot like this — not nearly as beautiful as the raven-hired, movie-star gorgeous girl who married Dad, but still lovely. A great laugher, full of infectious humour.

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She didn’t have much to laugh about, until mid-life. Dirt poor, the youngest child of an oilfield worker family, Mom lost a dearly beloved brother to a tragic accident when she was small. Mom’s mother also died, when she was a young teen. Her father promptly remarried. Mom became the Cinderella of her own story. It would be many years after I knew Mom well before I heard anything negative about her step-mother, and even then it would be muted by Mom’s innate kindness and dislike of mean-spiritedness. Suffice to say the woman’s own daughters were favoured, always.

Mom had to work very hard to get her teaching degree — as a live-in maid for another horrible woman, and then in a store. She worked more than full-time, and went to school full-time. Stories from those days were rare. Even rarer were condemnations of her father (who didn’t want her to be a teacher, and initially wouldn’t help w/ her expenses), or the people who worked her very hard.

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When Mom married Dad, they had my brother-in-law, and then  Dad joined the Merchant Marine. This, as Mom noted — one of the few stories w/ judgement voiced — was ‘totally unnecessary! He had a deferment, and a wife and child!‘ So Mom moved in with her mother-in-law.Mom & Dad right after marriage 2

I owe a great deal to Mom’s mother-in-law, who was not a nice person. At least not to Mom, and probably not to many folks. Mom told me — many many years after my husband’s grandmother, Nanyer, died — that she learned how not to be a mother-in-law from Nanyer. From stories told late in her life, I’m guessing Mom never did care for Nanyer. Even though Mom & Dad took both Dad’s mother and father in to live with them, until they died.

So here we have a woman who had a very hard life, in many ways. Too full of people who were unkind to her, as well as just the hard times of the Depression, and then WWII.  That alone would nominate many members of the Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw notes.

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30 Days of Love: flotsam, jetsam, tanka, and learning the story

John Singer Sargent, Flotsam & Jetsam

John Singer Sargent, Flotsam & Jetsam

Today’s prompt for 30 Days of Love is to write a haiku, a 140-character tweet, or a six-word story. In it, we’re to reflect on our own story.This, I’m thinking, I’m ready for. I’ve been practicing.

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Digression: I’ve been thinking about jetsam. As in, what we jettison overboard, to lighten the ship that carries us. What we deem unnecessary. And what I realised is that I’ve been doing this for awhile. Particularly in my writing.

About 2-3 years ago, I began trying my hand at traditional Japanese poetic forms. Primarily haiku and tanka, but I’ve also worked in renga. It started as a way to compress the long lines in my stanzas, forcing me to consider every syllable. And it was fun.

By now, I’ve become so comfortable with the shorter forms that I often prefer them, publishing tanka instead of not-quite-sonnets and longer poems. A lot of otherwise excellent poetry now seems … bloated. :)

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image

Kanji character for poetry

The challenge to a short form — whether it’s a reflection on your own life story, or an attempt to convey the magic of a fox appearing on the curb outside the window as you drive through familiar streets — is you must know what you think and feel. EXACTLY. There’s no real room for figuring it out, other than as you draft.

If you’re going to build the bridge between reader and writer, each sound/ syllable/ word/ image is critical. And despite the ostensible 31 syllables permissible, most American practitioners of tanka, for instance, try to do it in fewer. Which is creeping up on me, as well, as I become more familiar with the form.

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So I can write a short poem, a tweet — I often tweet tanka, for instance — even a six-word story. My challenge isn’t the writing; it’s the knowing. And that, I suspect, is the key to beginner’s heart: how very much I still don’t know.

Here’s my reflection on today’s story. I don’t have the temerity (nor the reflective strength) to try to write my ‘whole’ story. I don’t even know what that would look like..But I do know that every day — like every word and sound and image — counts.

imagecoffee’s dark fragrance
my elder son’s laughter
winter’s hungry wings
I know nothing endures
but maybe today maybe

 

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30 Days of Love: cleaning out drawers and lightening the load

cooking toolsI love to cook. And I love tools. Ergo, I have a LOT of cooking stuff. Cram-jammed drawers full. The same goes for coffee paraphenalia, tea accessories, and various things I no longer even recognise.

Not good. I have to dig through random junk every time I want something.

So today, while my husband took care of an errand, I took my freshly cleaned up self to the 1st drawer, and began divestiture. :)

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First I dumped everything out of the first drawer, the one I use daily. It held two mesh teapot spout protectors (neither of which I’ve used in years), various mismatched sterling teaspoons, my mother’s WWII dark steel espresso spoons, coffee canister filters, a tiger-in-a-sparkle-tutu butter spreader (don’t ask), and mason jar lids, rubber bands, twist-ties, ad infinitum nauseaum.

Wow. Who knew one drawer could even HOLD that much junk?? kitchen drawer

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Then I washed out the drawer, which immediately made me feel better. Cleaning does that to the women in my family (and even some of the men). After that? I washed the drawer organisers, and then began sifting/ sorting/ putting in piles. Pile A: for my sisters or nieces (stuff that’s good, but I have more than one). Pile B: stuff to keep. Pile C: otherwise known as the trash bin.

The drawer looked so good after I put pile B back in, that I started drawer 2!

And yep: there are myriad applications to beginner’s heart here. As well as 30 Days of Love. What if we regularly — at least as often as we clean out drawers, and do deep cleaning of our houses/ apartments/ studies, offices — threw out old habits? Threw out old prejudices that we are trying to outgrow?

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What if we only kept what was really USEFUL? Love, compassion, kindness? Humour and intelligent action and a belief in each other? What if we gave away the things we have plenty of? Not merely $$ & ¢¢, but time, support, our individual skills and talents…?

It might well inspire us to re-examine all the places in our lives where we could lighten up.

 

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30 Days of Love: RIP, Pete Seeger

Peter Seeger and his banjo, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender,” Great Hudson River Revival 2011. (Flickr/Jim)

Peter Seeger and his banjo, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender,” Great Hudson River Revival 2011. (Flickr/Jim)

I have always loved, admired, and respected Pete Seeger. As a musician, as a social activist, as an influence on American folk music, he’s one of my heroes. He died last night, and the world will be the poorer for his loss. As it was the brighter for his voice.

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Pete Seeger is the epitome of what 30 Days of Love is about, for me: standing up for justice, with the tools you wield best. In his case, a banjo and a voice. He took the idealism of his youth through his entire life, one bright gold thread in the nation’s tapestry of action.

Blogger John Nichols, from The Nation  eulogises Seeger and his  many accomplishments eloquently. Take a moment to celebrate a life well-lived, and deeply missed.

Rest in peace, Pete Seeger. You were a mighty warrior for the people.

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