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beginnerdom

Make a start. See what happens.

I need you to know …

by Hao Tran

… that I fail every day.  I am stealing this line from a recent movie “The Dig”, and that’s the line I still remember.  That’s the best line of all because it is so true.  It’s so assuring to know that I am not alone, and it is OK to admit failure, and it’s OK to live with it, and it’s OK to try to do better.

The fact is, or the truth is I am not sure if I have left any impact that has changed the world, a world remade as my friend David eloquently said it.  I think I did, and after sixty-six years of trying, I must have done some good and made a difference somewhere.

Many years ago, I was on one of my trips to Đồng Tháp province, the poorest place in the Mekong Delta, the place my father called the end of the earth.  It was the place where the landless and the displaced peasants went because there was no place else to go.  It was also the place where the cranes returned because everywhere else in the Delta had been destroyed or farmed to death with rice fields and shrimp farms.

I was with my friends from the International Crane Foundation and we spent weeks helping the villagers, if you call it that.  We did what we could to sample the soil, teach the kids water chemistry, help teachers with lab equipment.  We were the rich and environmentalism is the luxury of the rich.

One day I was walking around and I saw a small house, a hut, and woman with a toddler were looking at me.  The child was so small like a malnourished primate.  She was unwashed, almost naked with so little clothing.

I reached out and cleaned her face with a Kimwipes.

The mother looked at me with wet eyes.  “Strange man,” she said.

I write into being …

By Michelle Hynes

I write into being the shape of my grief. Or, sometimes, my joy. I work things out on the page. Friday writing is a special place — just my voice. And yours. Each in its own time.

First thing this morning — 7:30 — so early! My brain was filled with the voices of rural teachers. It’s my job to write into being a year of work, of toil, of learning. To somehow make many snippets of interviews into a quilt that honors the space between and among people I might never meet in person.

I write into being who I am, who I’ve been, who I aspire to be. I write into being, and offer to you, the world outside my window. Well, that’s not quite right. The world exists without me. But I see just a square of it, for most of each day — and  I offer you that square, my view of it. A square of dark chocolate, or quickly made cake, or the raised bed in the garden that might hold flowers or fruit.

I write into being my own view of what is. I write into being my own view of me, in this season of life. It’s just a moment, not something that endures. I write into being a dandelion, a bit of fluff, that might be blown away by the next strong breeze.

I write into being …

by Leann Sewell

I have to start today with a confession. Bless me, Group, for I have sinned.

I realized last night I lay awake in my bed on Thursday nights trying to guess at the prompt for the next day and constructing potential first lines. This isn’t a mortal sin and it still needed to be let out.

I am a weak, large baby who just wants to be loved and the only way I can maybe succeed on my mission is to try and plan ahead for all possibilities. Semper paratus and all that.

With that out of the way maybe I am free to just scribble my little pen across my little paper and trust whatever comes.

As Joy read the blog post about grief this morning, I had the sense maybe not for the first time, that I am a twin. That I was not born alone. Did not gestate alone.

My twin is Grief and I ate her up inside our mother’s womb and carry her with me now.

We speak our own special twin language. I hold the memory of her hand in mine.

I can’t take a deep breath because she lives in the space around my lungs, my heart, my diaphragm.

I write her into being – let her guide the pen since she has no mouth to speak for herself.

I have enough …

By Ana Lucia Jardim

I have enough tension on my shoulders to crack a walnut against the wall. This armour has been with me since the beginning, likely since my birth. Maybe it was the forceps, or maybe it was the waiting and waiting for the OB guy to come back from his lunch break. My poor mother. She must have been so tense that she passed it on to me, unwillingly. Now it’s kinda cute when we walk down the street together: who’s got the toughest shoulders?! These days, I like putting my arm over my mother’s shoulders, and kissing her on the cheek.

This cup we call life

(This prompt is a line from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Toad.”)

This cup we call life

Runneth over

Spilleth

Leaketh

Is madeth of paper, becomes soggy, disintegrates.

Is echoey tin: a jailhouse vessel, our distorted reflection in its hammered side.

This cup we call life, full of stagnant or trembling or ever-replenished us-ness.

My cup is still. It’s almost empty, which is not to say I am near to death (not as far as I know anyway; not as far as anyone has told me).

It is that right now I need no more than this portion, this sip, the abundance of nourishment contained within.

I feel done with topping off for the sake of not running out. A frantic, futile pour-through of life force – the cup emptying from the bottom while being endlessly, needlessly filled from above.

This cup we call life

Is a crystal goblet

Containing

Something

Enduring…

And it is in and with this I rest. Cupping the cup in my sated palms.

Glancing up and over its rim, I see

The full court of my beloveds.The abundance of the feast before us.

There is still plenty in this dwindling world.In fact—The harder you try, the faster it dwindles.If you sit back, take it in through the awe-struck jewels of your eyes

It will multiply.

Infinitely.

No matter how close you are to death or any other big change,No matter how full it seems your cup needs to be to face whatever lies around the bend in the road,Sip lightly and knowYou will be sustained.

For you are made of space and probability

And the probability is

You will

Re-form

Again and again

Emerging into a new life, a new cup

That will runneth over

Or spilleth,

Or leaketh,

And you will learn the lessons both anew

And all over again

…….

And with a minute left

I spill back to earth—My half-full teacup. The feast of lovingly procured noshes before me.

And the friends of my soul

In their own beautiful cups—

And I know without a doubt that, to deserve this,

I have done

Something

Right.

This cup we call life

By Jan Martinez

I pin them carefully through the paper and onto the cardboard with the little stickpins provided. I choose a color: red, blue, green. Even in my young hands I’d prefer a pen with a weightier line, but this is what I have, so I begin to move. To inscribe a dance on paper. Arcs swirling into flowers, planets, shapes, anemones, galaxies… Later I’d noticed that the patterns of life and matter repeat everywhere. Was it later? Was it before?

There was a Disney cartoon about this. Sometimes I still look it up today on YouTube. Donald Duck stomping through time and space quacking on about the Golden Mean, the Golden Triangle, the perfection of the Spiral. I still love it, as much as I did when I was a child sitting at a table with my beloved Spirograph, making patterns, some I could predict, some not. A miracle in plastic gears and perforated paper on an evermore pin-cushioned piece of cardboard.

Do we live our lives in ever widening circles? As I sip my tea – a blend that most certainly contains Ceylon – I stare into its amber depths. I imagine a staircase starting at the edge and inclining downward, wrapping around with infinite gentleness, so shallow at the top that the liquid is almost clear. From the top it looks dark at the bottom, but it’s just deep. Our eyes and bodies adjust as we live our lives in ever deepening circles.

If I live to be 100, I’m already more than halfway to the bottom of this cup – this cenote – we call life. And there’s great stuff down here: wisdom, knowledge, freedom, choice, pain, grief. There’s movement: flow, dynamism, momentum. And there’s love and calm, bliss. So don’t be afraid. Come on in. The water is fine.

What I didn’t see …

The baby hummingbird in the nest in the dogwood last spring. Small as the tip of a human pinky finger. Purplish pinkish and making a start at becoming iridescent. Little stubby beak, almost like any other bird who doesn’t need a needle-straw to feed.

Its mother very nearby, applying her own needle-straw to some blossom, taking in the sweet liquid, holding it under her tongue like a tincture for the flight back home, putting her needle in the baby beak and releasing the nourishment.

At least I imagine that’s how it went. I didn’t see it. Hopefully nobody else did either. Neither human nor cat nor hawk nor anyone who might think them delicious, or fascinating, or have any reason to get too close.

A miracle that tiny warrants all the air it can breathe. A giant perimeter of reference, of safety.

I dreamt I wrote a novel. I’m remembering it now. It just started coming out. I didn’t see what was on the pages but I remember the feel of it. Realizing I could actually build it, one page, two pages at a time.

A dream that important needs space to unfurl. I take two, three respectful steps back and ask for the space in my waking life to attend to it or real, when the time Is right. Maybe in the spring when the baby hummingbirds begin to be born, begin to hum …

I felt the sun on my face but what I didn’t see was the quite visible ray extending through the solar system to reach me in particular. I didn’t see that I was one of her children, her ray a needle-straw, beaming life into my mouth, down my gullet and into my body, charging and nourishing every cell. I didn’t – I don’t – see this happening with every breath of oxygen gifted to me by trees.

I don’t see the earth reaching upward, offering warmth through the soles of my feet, claiming me as hers, telling me in each moment that I do, in fact, belong.

Into the fire

Funny, at first blush I’m tempted to throw all the people into the fire. No, of course not the people themselves. Just their pulling on me. Their expectation. Their burden and insistence. Their interference and interruption. The way they throw themselves onto the path that a moment ago was clear, infinite, wending toward some unknowable possibility.

Instead what I am finding is feeding the flames are indeed people, but not because I’ve dashed their need of me against hot burning logs. Rather, what’s going up in smoke is the notion that I can do anything, anything at all, without them. Without you. That in fact these insistent souls aren’t roadblocks, or prison wardens, or corsets, or trip wires, or anything else my overwhelmed, over-efforting ego has named them over the years.

On the contrary, they are the way. Their insistence is the insistence of god. They are me being shown to me. They are the wisdom my own mind can’t touch, the love that fills the deep holes in my heart. They are guideposts when my singular GPS goes on the fritz. They are the fuel for my fire, for my car, for my own two legs.

I am sorry, so sorry to all you who have tried, and whom I’ve pushed aside, annoyed and asserting that I can do it my own damn self, if only I had a moment’s peace.

There you all are, standing in a line, holding candles, offering quiet fire, offering the peace I have always, always sought.


Prompt inspired by this song …

The truth is / If nothing ever changed

By Jan Martinez

The truth is

The truth is I’ve been a companion of death for a year now. January, my father, slipping away alone on the second Wednesday of the month, just after my mom and brother left his room to get dinner. It was so like him to shoulder it all alone as he had since he was a boy, raised in poverty in Mexico.

The impact of the pandemic meant we couldn’t hold his funeral until Labor Day, immediately after which my mother went into the hospital, finally dying on the second Wednesday of November.

The truth is I am grieving. The truth is that grief and sorrow are not the same. Some days I missed them with a depth I can’t explain—a giant hole that drops from my heart into some unfathomably cold, clear cenote. Tangled roots and vines from above threatening to hold me down, deeper caves beneath luring me further in. These are the days I have thought, “I’ll call Mom,” or “wouldn’t Dad have had a laugh about that?”

But the truth is that mostly I’m grateful. To them and my teachers and the profound healing work that has allowed me to close—yes excavate and fully heal—many of the wounds all children have from growing up. So the truth is that my parents have in some ways passed from my life with a pure surgical cleanliness. Not a lot of blood or oozing. Yes there is pain. And maybe a tiny scar, just a pure silver, diamond thread to mark all they have given me.

If nothing ever changed

Sometime after 3 AM, I dreamt that my mother was still alive – frail, in need of so much help and tender care, but alive.

“Mom,” I said, “I think it’s time for you to live in a community of care. You can’t stay alone anymore.” And she agreed, turning her green-eyed child-like gaze up at me from where she leaned on her walker. Her loss of height from arthritis and a broken femur broke my heart again. She had always been taller than me.

She blinked like an owl and I felt myself leaving once again, drawing away, worried for her. I awoke in a mood of pure sorrow, wanting nothing more than to cry or have tea, write, or lose myself in Larry’s hug. But he awoke crabby, so that simply wasn’t to be.

A few days ago, he’d got together with a friend whose daughters go to Oxford high. Four deaths at the hands and gun of a fellow student put this small Michigan town on the map. The girls, twins, were both near the shooter when it all happened. Both had to hide behind locked doors. And there was more upheaval for Larry’s friend—the complexities of life over the past several years, hardships with family, the pandemic…

Larry returned from dinner in a state of shocked gratitude. Grateful for all we have, the things we’ve done well, the metaphorical bullets we’ve dodged. But today he’s crabby. Tomorrow he’ll likely be sunny and grateful, because everything always changes. It’s guaranteed. Maybe tomorrow I’ll still be sad, missing my mom, but maybe not. Maybe there’ll be some relief. Who better than Mom would understand this?

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