Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.


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. :)



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.


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



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. :)


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


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?


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.



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.


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.


freedom of (and from) religion

1st amendment

As I’ve mentioned recently, freedom of religion is a big deal to me. And that freedom doesn’t mean you get to worship your mainstream religion in public and I don’t. Or that you can discriminate against me — even harass me — because my beliefs differ from yours.


And yet, despite the very clear dictates of the US Constitution’s First Amendment on this, a school district in Louisiana is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union after a sixth grade student’s parents complained that the boy was being told he needed to change his religion, and accept that ‘this is the Bible belt.’ The boy’s family sued when the parish superintendent told them to transfer the boy, a life-long Buddhist of Thai descent,  where there were ‘more Asians.’

It’s also alleged that the boy’s science teacher — who teaches that evolution is impossible, and that the Bible is 100% true — called those who believe in evolution ‘stupid.’religions all


How is this in any way reflective of the Christianity of Jesus? Where would this show up in the New Testament? As someone raised throughout childhood in a Christian tradition, I can’t imagine if I had been this disrespectful of my Indian, Việtnamese, Chinese, Japanese, or ‘other’ friends. Or my parents’ friends, who were Buddhist, Taoist, Catholic, Jewish, and Christian. Later, my own friends were Muslim, Hindu, atheist, pagan, and Wiccan. How on EARTH is being rude and hateful to a sixth-grader emblematic of ANY faith?

I don’t understand meanness. Never have. But I really have no truck w/ being mean to children. And even less patience with people who try to impose their religious beliefs on ANYONE. It’s not your business what my children believe, and having a principal, or teacher, or superintendent of the district ask if a child can’t change his religion to ‘fit in’ is beyond insulting. It’s flat wrong. And it’s also unconstitutional.

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