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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

axe handles, poetry, aging…beginner’s heart…

poetry imageI’m reading an old issue of American PoetThey tend to pile up, kind of like my New Yorker issues. Things that come frequently, or have intellectual density, often get lost under doing dishes, exercise, feeding birds. The necessary acts of daily life.

But the poem I just finished — Gary Snyder’s ‘Axe Handles‘ — reminds me that William Carlos Williams was right: It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.

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If I go too long without poetry, it’s not as critical as water. It’s somewhere up there with…vitamins. Sunlight. Sitting outside. Not truly life-or-death, but pretty damn important. Because what I learn is ALWAYS useful — not simply ‘pretty,’ or even ‘literary.’ But useful like food, sunlight, vitamins.

Take ‘Axe Handles.’ axe handles

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Lately I’ve been feeling stiff. Arthritic, for sure, but stiff in other ways, as well. Like my intellectual, emotional, & physical ‘muscles’ are almost rusted tight. I can’t think like I could. And for someone with Alzheimer’s rampant in her family, that’s a bit…unnerving, to say the least.

The recumbent bike is twice as hard as it ought to be. I’m cranky. And I often feel…well, unnecessary. In the way that American culture is so very good at making the aging feel.

Snyder reminds me I am more than a discarded axe handle. I am capable of being a pattern, a model. Of still being useful. Of teaching. Of being what the next axe handle comes from.

How could I forget that? I’ve been a teacher for years! And even when I was a journalist before that, what is the role of news but to inform? To make it possible for us to learn from others?

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connect the dotsI’m just the next dot in a line of dots — my mother & father, my grandmothers, my great-aunts, my mentors & the poets I love and the artists in various media who’ve touched me & shaped my life… The teachers I had, the writers who have laid themselves down as bridges over very troubled waters. Who knows what the ultimate pattern is?

Of course I’m at least partially in love with this poem because it includes my beloved Pound, and his Chinese translations. Plus it’s Snyder, whom I adore & revere. Once, at a reading the poet W.S. Merwin gave, he mentioned sitting with Pound at St. Elizabeth’s. I did much of my doctoral work on Pound, and suddenly there I was: connected to this flawed icon, whose work is still so influential to poets, by the man in front of me. One more (very minor!) dot in the line. poundPound, Merwin, then each of us in that room who came to learn about our craft.

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You need to read the poem yourself (I HATE the kind of teacher who is certain that s/he has the only ‘key’ to a piece of writing). But if you, like me, are feeling blue after the holidays, and a bit superfluous to those around you? It’s just the news you need.

 

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walking the talk

poseurI loved it when the word poseur was popular — it seemed to capture the whole ‘I can talk the talk’ attitude of so many folks. Who never seemed to have any real credibility, when it came to actions. Couldn’t — in other words — walk the true walk.

That’s true in many areas, of course. Especially when we discuss ethics, religion, faith, any moral arena.

I ran across a quote by Adlai Stevenson II, the wonderful defender of liberal values during the 50s & 60s: It is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them. And ain’t it just?

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As a Buddhist, I know I’m supposed to learn my own mind. Meditate. Practice. Be mindful. Know the 4 Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. 8fold pathI do try, honest! But meditation is sooo boring (sorry — it doesn’t make me happy to do it, only to have done it), and I forget and swear when I’m irritated, and sometimes I do NOT have either right mindfulness OR right concentration. Or any OTHER kind of concentration!

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There. I’m now officially drummed out of the good Buddhists club. :)

But here’s the deal: it’s hard because I’m trying not to just talk about it. I’m trying to be civil  to the family member who prayed for Obama’s death. Pleasant to another who believes children should be hit with switches and other tools. And hardest all, forgiving of my own idiocies, on a daily basis.

Because if we can’t be kind to ourselves, whom we know so very well, how on earth will we ever find the way to be kind to the rest of this flawed human race?

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If you’re trying to form resolutions for this year, still, here’s mine: be kinder. More forgiving. Laugh more and lecture less. Try to lighten up, on myself as well as others. Treat yourself like you were a good friend. It will keep you from the self-hate talk we’re all sometimes guilty of.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a very good beginning. You may even find you can be more pleasant to the uncle you can’t stand!

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talking about faith, hate, and civil discourse

no hateOn a FB thread a friend began, there’s a discussion of homosexuality, race, and gender. My friend is not tolerant: he lives his beliefs.

An aside: I don’t really like the word ‘tolerance.’ It always reminds me of the stuff I didn’t want to eat when I was a kid. My mother & grandmother said I’d learn to ‘tolerate’ them… Ugh.

I don’t WANT folks to ‘tolerate’ my niece, my best friends, my family. I want the people I love to be seen for their own beautifully complex human-ness. And yes, I understand that’s not going to happen easily, in many people’s hearts.

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That said? If your religion requires you to hate, there is something seriously wrong with it. NO mainstream religion that I know of has a founder who advocates hate. And Christianity is based on the words of Jesus, ostensibly, not the Old Testament, which is filled with hate. (Another aside: have you read the OT lately? That is a DARK piece of work!)no hate 2

Yet the Jews, who follow the Old Testament, are not people of hate. Paradoxically, it’s Christians who most often claim that dubious distinction. And fundamentalist Muslims, with whom fundamentalist Christians have far more in common than they acknowledge.

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My religion is kindness, says the Dalai Lama. And that’s my mantra this year. My resolution, as it were. :) I want to be kinder. But sometimes, kindness is the wrong kind of tolerance. So in those cases, I’m going to aim for civil discourse. As I will on my dear friend’s FB page.

His cousin believes that gays are ‘destroying religious tradition.’ And that transsexuals are boys & girls who subvert the dress code to gain access to locker rooms. Somehow, religion also enters this.

god's fan clubHmmm…. I’m not sure how to answer that, other than to note that many churches (notably the old Catholic  Church) came out for slavery, and for racism, and for the abuse of women & children. Some still do. Do we allow that as ‘freedom of religion’? Is that a viable excuse for wrong actions? For denying human beings the right to live their own lives? Do you really believe that anyone CHOOSES to be gay? To be bullied, beaten, disowned by your family & church, and have the ultimate right — to love whom you please — denied you?

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My other resolution this year is to be positive, to not bash, but to uphold & uplift. More love, less anger :). So what I’m asking is this: why can’t we agree to disagree? Why do laws have to be punitive? If people aren’t hurting others, why do we need to make laws to punish them? I feel this way about a lot of things: marijuana, gender, cat ladies. NOT of equal importance, of course. But equally none of my business.

What is this great hatred of things different from our own upbringing? Where in any belief does it say it’s okay to hate those who are different, and punish them? Given the incredible challenges with translating ANY text thousands of years old, why are we so sure that hate is what is asked for?love

This year, what would happen if we tried to love as fiercely as we have? If we each lived our life from the point of view that what doesn’t make us more loving isn’t part of our faith? I’m not certain, but my thought is we’d change the world. It would at least make reading FB more pleasant.

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poetry, politics, and beginner’s heart

If changing the world is your fight, it will exhaust you.

But if it’s just your way of being, it will be effortless!

So promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

~ Buddhist Boot Camp

This is going to be my New Year’s resolution #1. Stop going off on things. Because I do, as anyone who knows me even slightly knows well. :)

grief3I’m going to remember what Robert Frost said: Poetry is about the grief. Politics is about the grievance. And be more a poet than a politico. :) Politics is important, certainly. Law can protect people from the actions of mean-hearted people. But it doesn’t often change the attitudes of those people. It doesn’t change hearts.

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That’s what poetry is for.  Dealing with the grieving fallout of racism directed at a child (those chilling pictures of Ruby Bridges running the gauntlet of hate), the battered psyche of a young boy beaten by homophobic bullies, the terror in the eyes of a girl who will never ‘date’ without thinking of its silent partner, ‘rape.’ new year resolutions

If a book can galvanise a country to illegalise slavery, then perhaps a poem (or an essay or a story or another piece of art) can change a heart. Without the acrid aftermath of anger.

I think it’s at least a good place to begin, this New Year’s Day. What about you? What do you resolve to do this year?

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