Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Sofía the sparrow, Barney the blue jay, Fiona the finch, & others ~

One thing you learn when you draw birds: you’ve never reallyseen them previously. How different each one is. I thought I knew the birds on the deck — I can even distinguish a few from each other. But I recognise them by their behaviours, not how they look.

Now? I am seeing their differences… Their fat round winter-puffed bellies, the tilt of a head, the way a woodpecker darts at the birds to either side of her perch.  It reminds me, all over again, that nothing is simple. And everything is connected…

There’s one woodpecker I know by both behaviour and looks: it’s the young male from this spring. He’s not very bright — hence the ‘behaviour’ recognition. One of his favourite pursuits is pecking at the post the seed cylinder hangs from. (I told you he wasn’t too bright…) But he’s also less brightly coloured, even though a male. He has the tell-tale red blotch on the back of his head, but his black&white always looks a bit dull, as if he washed his clothes w/ something that faded grey onto them.

And there are fat sparrows (some may have done steroids!), lean sparrows, long-bellied sparrows and I haven’t even gotten to the blue jays, cardinals, finches, titmice…

There’s an entire family of cardinals, two seasons worth. Males & females & young males. I can even tell one of the young males from the others. The finches I’m still learning — they’re less individual and more a flock. :)

Each different. Each similar. And yes, I know I see metaphors everywhere. But it really does seem kind of like a Buddhist thing. You know what I mean?

words of encouragement ~

A woman I’ve never met made my day yesterday. Actually, she rescued from the the flu blues, as well as a bad case of the Eeyores (woe is me… life is sad…eat worms…). Not to mention a spiralling why do I bother?? mindset… And to repeat: I’ve never met her. Wouldn’t recognise her if she whacked me on the butt.

But she’s my new publisher, and deserves a huge round of applause. Her impact on me is proof positive that small gestures on our part can have large impact on others.

In the publishing business — especially poetry — much of the contact is done by email. I have actually met very few (two? three?) of the people who have published my work. But that’s true for much of my life these days — increasingly, it is online.

I spend hours daily on email, connecting through FaceBook or LinkedIn or Google+. There are people I think of as friends — not simply peers — whom I’ve never met: a lovely dog-lover & fellow teachers in Massachusetts, a dear retired professor in Mississippi, an artist & fossil expert in Ohio… Such is today’s network of friendships, the ersatz sangha I belong to. Nice people, friends of dear friends, with whom I’ve struck up ‘virtual’ — but real — friendships.

But my publisher doesn’t have to be nice to me — she already accepted my manuscript, and she could ignore me until there’s actual work to do. Instead, when I send her an email updating her on the progress of various manuscript submissions to this & that journal (bad…uniformly NOT GOOD), she sends me a cheerleader of a letter. Tongue firmly in cheeck, she reminds me that if this was easy, everyone would do it. And somehow that helps.

What helps even more is her belief in my work, which feels like a belief in me, the person. The sad-eyed Eeyore heart behind the brave shell of a writer. We’re such fragile, self-absorbed folks, writers. I’ve been known to tell a classroom of writers — of any age — that everyone in the room (myself included) believes that what they think & have to say MATTER, or they wouldn’t be writing it down! That asserted, it doesn’t mean anyone else will want to listen. Or that they won’t  (worst possible scenario!) LAUGH AT YOU! (Cue evil laughter…)

I happen to know that Sammy (my publisher) is always busy. Probably frantically busy, as most folks involved w/ writers are. She juggles a life (even writers are allowed one), her writers, the publishing biz, her own writing, interviews, advocacy… the list is long and literate. But she still found time, late the other evening, to write a new-to-her writer a note of encouragement. And she didn’t laugh once.

How many times daily could I make a difference? How many times might eye contact, a smile, a word of genuine thanks, a note of appreciation, smooth the wrinkles from a rumpled day? And how many times are we too busy to even notice, much less take the moments necessary?

Here’s to Sammy, and words of encouragement. I’m tearing a leaf from that book. And the words don’t even have to rhyme…

a ray of sun, a flat grey cat, and winter ~

Sophie the cat came to us about 10+ years ago. So she’s an elder cat — well-versed in the wiles of felines. She knows that when I’m sitting at the breakfast table, and the mid-day sun is slanting over the table, I won’t object to her laying on the table beside me. After all, the sun is warm on both of us, and a grey cat is greyt inspiration…:)

I sometimes wonder if it’s attachment to be so fond of the family animals. There are animals in my life — far far back — for whom I still grieve. A dog; a cat that didn’t even belong to me; another dog that didn’t, either… Their names and faces are fresh, like a beloved aunt’s.

Sophie isn’t a ‘life cat.’ She isn’t as amazing as the cat who lived w/ us courtesy of friends. Grabber seemed to know my every thought. And while she’s certainly as beautiful as (if not more than) any cat I’ve had, she’s pretty well-adjusted, as cats go. She doesn’t have any real idiosyncracies. Perhaps that’s enough to make her idiosyncratic…?

Because cats always come w/ baggage. Sophie is a rescue, a feral kitten born at the site of my son’s camp counseling job. He brought her home 10+ years ago, and she’s been with us since. Several years back, the neighbour behind us shot her; the pellet from what should have felled a racoon instead remains lodged in her flank. The vet told us it’s too dicey w/ cats to operate, since it doesn’t seem to do more than make her gimpy. She can still take a hummingbird down from mid-air, even at 10. Still, she is simply herself — a grey cat, sleeping in January sun.

Something there is, as Auden would say, about sitting in the lazy sun w/ a dozing cat. But I don’t think it’s attachment. It feels more like this moment, expanding outward like a warm golden field. Kind  of like a black hole in reverse…? At any rate — I wish I could send it to each of you. Because I’m pretty sure we need more of it this coming year ~

after the holidays: writing your way back home ~

It’s all done — the build-up of lists & wrapping & shopping & cooking. The family from out of town have departed, or (if you’re that family) you’re home again, and back to work. You’ve written (maybe even already broken? :)) your resolutions, and the whole world is missing its red & green, its blue & silver & gold…

What now?

I recommend a journal. Seriously. Find a book — it needn’t be a fancy hand-made Italian leather, w/ handsewn pages. It can be what teachers call a ‘cow book’ — a dollar-store black&white composition book. It can be a Moleskine (mine are). It can be a spiral or an online app or whatever you like. It’s the writing that’s important, not the written in.

Use it as an excuse to buy a new inkpen — roller ball, fountain pen, or a freshly sharpened pencil w/ a knife-edge point. Take a moment to list a few things you’re grateful for already this year. Jot down something you’d like to accomplish (don’t make it as fancy as a ‘resolution’…). Doodle or draw in the margin, and you’re set. You’ve started a journal.

My son asked me last night if I could fit everything I need in five boxes. “NO!” I said in utter horror at the thought. And then I reconsidered… What would I fill my boxes with? First, he had to kid me (we have those kids…): What if the box is as big as your house, Mom? And yes, this is a grown man. Sort of…

Given five U-Haul boxes, of medium-large size, I know I would put into one my journals. They pre-date the birth of the son who asked me about my boxes: there is a list of what I needed to buy on a trip to England, from where we were living in Saudi Arabia…And I still grieve for journals left on planes, stolen from luggage, lost to carelessness. Each as valuable as if it had lived its own singular life.

Over the years my journals have filled small hardback books (3×5, 4×7), leather-bound refillables, Moleskines, & the lovely books friends & family have given me. I’ve settled on Moleskines, as I like their durability, the pocket for mementoes, their size. This year my elder son & daughter-in-law bought me an e-version, complete w/ stickers for referencing online. Another chapter!

I hope this year’s journal is full of birds — the sketch book is where I’ll be doing my work, but I figure my journal (always with me) will see some spillover. It will also be full of poetry starts, lists to organise me, pasted-in cartoons & weather forecasts & who knows what? That’s half the fun — looking forward from this side of the empty pages to that side of the full ones ~  If you just pick out a book & start, when 2014 comes, it will be full. Who knows? You  may even have filled TWO!

 

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