Today is one of those days when I don’t think. Really (and don’t tell me you don’t have those days). It was all I could do figure out breakfast (cappuccino and left-over chicken; don’t judge me).
So today’s post is totally random — and really? That’s perfect beginner’s heart, if you consider: how one thing links to another, the way my teacher reminded me that we are all part of everything. Even physics says this: molecules don’t have a precise threshold, a line over which they cannot cross. It’s just that the molecular line is soooo much smaller; we can’t see it. But it’s still ‘blurry,’ for lack of a better word. My atoms bounce out into the air, and the atoms that make up air bounce into me. On a verrry tiny level. 🙂
And everyone who ever breathed in and out is still here, as well. My dearly and deeply missed old ladies, my parents. Gandhi and St. Francis and the Buddha. Beth who was in a class I taught, and killed herself. An unknown woman from the Middle Ages, who died in a smoke-filled hut at 18, in childbirth.
Extinct birds and mammals and even the dinosaurs — all of them still present, on an elemental scale, in the very air I breathe. Part of the random (but unique!) collection of atoms and molecules that comprise each of us. We are as connected — each animate and inanimate piece, forever — as my thumb and fingers. Ostensibly independent, but irretrievably part of a whole.
So for me, the most random of images (but also — paradoxically — the least) is that of the web I believe connects everyone to everything to everytime. As random as a man lost in the Fukishima tsunami, who finally melted into the ocean, and then the droplets of seawater swept up into the wind, dropped as rain on Oklahoma. But also as connected as a story of one life makes that life to my own. As connected as iron (Fe) and oxygen (O): rust (FeO). When the iron and the air connect, they marry — into that lovely colour, rust. Visible connection.
I know — it’s a stretch of physics (my husband reminds me of this when I go all metaphorical), but it’s my world view. 🙂 And on a day when it started off looking like rain, and hatched into blue skies and birds singing, it suits me just fine.
I’m working (hard) on a chapbook manuscript. Which is to say, I’m going over work I did — some of it a while ago — line by line, word by word, space by line break by punctuation mark.
I hate it.
But it’s become the metaphor of my week: revision. Or, if you prefer, re-framing. Because that’s what writing allows us to do: reframe our stories. Revise and thus reframe our lives. Even fiction is, always, at least a foggy window into the writer.
My publisher said I need to work on ‘sequencing.’ For those of you who don’t do poetry, that’s which poem follows which, and the underlying ‘why.’ I’m pretty good at that for others, not so much myself. Kind of the way we can always give advice to someone else, but often would no more do that ourselves than … well, you know.
It’s taken time for me to disengage from each poem enough to query it. Time, in this case, = distance. At least a bit of objectivity. The newer pieces still seem better than the older ones, because what you’ve recently written is like that. The same way the actions of my recent past are far more difficult to evaluate clearly: I have neither time passed nor distance.
But as I try to figure out why I wrote each poem — which helps me figure out the whole ‘sequencing’ thing — I’m learning how to look more closely at even the trivia of my everyday life. I’m better able see the whole picture: not just the overflowing box of books in the living room, but why it’s been so important, lately, to clear out junk (even beloved junk, like poetry books from my dissertation, and old fiction). Why it only really feels like spring when we put the table umbrella up over the deck table. Why I don’t work harder on ‘real’ exercise… 🙂
All of this is by way of saying that once you start revising/ asking ‘why’…? Well, you’re doomed. Your life begins to unfurl like a skein of impossibly tangled but beautiful ribbon. And when you start following it, it leads everywhere. It may just take a little time to get your bearings.
I love the first daffodils. In our front garden, they’re multiplying like spring rabbits — pheasant’s eye, narcissus, tiny jonquils, large trumpeted King Alfred, double Winston Churchill, and many more. They bloom between the canes of last summer’s Joe Pye Weed, and beneath the roots of my grandmother’s hardy hibiscus.
They’re just so cheerful! And after a couple of dreary grey days, when damp rain slanted into your face, they’re oh so welcome. I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder, and the short days with grey skies are often a real hardship. Even though I know that we need rain, I’d prefer it to fall when the sun’s shining…
Today, however, temps are in the mid-70s, bright w/ that clear spring sunlight that seems to fall from pale blue sky like heat from a patio heater. The dogs are laying on the deck, and I’m going to follow them out, and lay in a chair in the sun, as soon as I remind you all that spring really IS here.
Even if it’s raining where you are — as it was here, yesterday — spring is in full bud. The flowering crabs are pink with promise, and the dandelions are as yellow as daffodils. My roses are heavy w/ leafbud, and I’m cleaning the bookshelves of old books. Spring cleaning is a sure sign!
So hang on: spring is here to save us from the grey days of late winter. And I am sooooo ready.
It feels like my world is losing important pieces, lately. A death here, a death there, a third one just behind them. A lot of friends, colleagues, and the family of both have taken wing. Elsewhere. Wherever the dead go.
This time, it was the dear man who, in many ways, made me believe I could do a doctorate. In all humility, I wasn’t so worried about the actual work: I was worried I’d hate it. That it would be useless, an exercise in esoterica that would have no real world application.
It was Ravi who showed me, in my first two classes, that I was wrong. He was funny — even goofy sometimes, a rare quality in a true scholar. He was also brilliant, in a low-key manner that never distanced anyone. A genuinely good person.
In my first class with him, I received an A- on a paper. He offered the opportunity to revise, so I did. When I turned in my paper, he asked: Britt, you have an A. Why are you revising?? I told him I wanted a higher grade — I’m not an A- girl. He laughed. And then he sent my final paper in that class — taken my first semester in my doctoral program — to a famous colleague, just to show him.
What kind of amazing is that? In one gesture, Ravi made me feel like a member of a very elit
e club: linguists and scholars. Wow.
Years later, as I became an administrator of a federal grant for teachers, Ravi was the faculty member I never failed to ask to present at our summer graduate seminars. He honoured the intelligence and acuity teachers bring to their classrooms — never speaking down to them, always providing witty embroidery for useful scholarship.
Ravi never lost sight of the importance of teaching, even as he continued important research in learning language. Students loved him, and all of us appreciated his commitment to the next generation of scholars.
As a friend, he was encouraging of us all. You were your best self in his presence: funnier, smarter, kinder. And sometimes goofier (his puns were notorious groaners).
In lectures, Ravi often brought in family stories — he adored his wife & son, and it was evident in the way he spoke of each. Another of his many endearing traits.
Now, he’s gone. Just like that. A fluke infection from an operation that went well, otherwise. Days later, the mentor, friend, & scholar is gone. I know all the platitudes about no one is gone if you remember them. But there will be no more bad puns. No more summer lectures. No more admonishments not to use a restaurant in Tulsa, because he knew the kitchen. And that breaks my heart.
So I’m trying to remember that the cracks in a heart — even a beginner’s heart — let the light in. But right now, it all seems pretty dark…