dirt in the garden & other outside glories ~

dirt in the garden & other outside glories ~

This week has been a gardening bonanza. A few days ago we went to the garden center and bought several plants, ranging from white cosmos to blue sage to orange-yellow coreopsis to red&green striped fountain grass. Nectar plants. Bee & butterfly plants 😊 It makes me a happy happy camper.

I love the smell of dirt. It heals me. I am ecstatic in the warm sun, w/ a breeze lifting my hair. And there’s little I like better than sitting on the our front porch afterwards, w/ a glass of cold tea from the morning pot’s leftovers. My nails will never be long — I’m lucky they aren’t ragged, given how often I forget my gardening gloves! But the trellis is up, and the 3 climbing roses (two single whites & a single red, w/ a yellow heart) have either already bloomed (the red), or are blooming now (the whites). The trellis makes the front porch so … well, I know it sounds trite & veddddy British, but it’s cosy. Honest. So I put in a window box planter filled w/ meadowy flowers: cosmos, rudbeckia, red fountain grass, blue sage. It’s sitting on the porch floor, and looks like a verrry tiny meadow — filled w/ bees working the old-fashioned flowers.

And then there are the 5 crape myrtles — like we had at our old house, in multi shades of red, cherry, pink, & white — and the very nice mail order place sent a 6th cherry red one. So then we had to buy a 7th white one, so that the island ‘balanced.’ It’s right outside the kitchen window, in front of the back fence. If it all ‘takes’ (gardening is always fraught with weather ifs!), it will be gorgeous to see in the heat of mid-summer.

When I’m in gardening mode, I think in flowers. Or at least in plants (right now I’m beginning to think of an herb border!). I read gardening books: meadow grasses, herbs, garden design, native plants for pollinators & birds. I ‘try on’ this shrub, this understory tree, this climber. And I watch the sun move through the yard, trying to get a feel for this new landscape & what should go where, to be happiest. It’s all a totally absorbing puzzle, w/the added bonus of being outside in this soft mountain early summer.

It’s also meditation, really. Time ceases to exist, at least not in a linear fashion. There’s the soft fluff of peaty soil, the careful choosing of foliage to complement flower, and the smell of water as it soaks a freshly planted pot. Sensory immediacy is a kind of counting of the breath, at least for me. I breathe in. I breathe out. But what I’m really doing is focusing on the plants, their needs. The now of dirt & root & pot.

If you don’t have a yard, it doesn’t matter. Some of my happiest ‘gardening’ days were the clay pots on the front porch of a rental duplex I shared w/ my sister. Then as now, I made tiny meadows in window boxes, and seduced bees w/what they like best: fragrant flowers filled w/ nectar. All you need is dirt, water, & some seeds. You & Mother Nature can do the rest together.

Steinbeck, moral virtue, and the loss of the American dream ~

Steinbeck, moral virtue, and the loss of the American dream ~

This is the year I lose what little faith I had left in the American Dream. Not ‘the’ American Dream — I’m not sure I’ve believed in that for a long time. All people can’t become president (unless they’re über rich…). Nor can just anyone come to America — especially these days — much less become whatever s/he wants to be.

No, this was the dream that drove America to international acclaim during the 20th century. The dream that birthed so many great poets, inventors, philosophers, scientists and musicians. The dream that flamed bright in Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, César Chávez. The dream of a quality public education that was the right of every American child.

I am trying to come to terms w/ the idea that while we say we care about education, what we do (remember the whole actions speak thing?) is cut funding, deride teachers, slash their pay and benefits. And blame them, in the meantime, for ills that are societal in nature. Witness our current Secretary of Education, and her disinterest in traditional public ed. Despite, for instance, the research that shows (fairly conclusively) that charter schools are NOT as strong, overall, as public schools, and that $$ DO make a difference in quality of education, she & her bosses continue to tout charter schools. Which make PROFITS off of kids. Grr…

John Steinbeck once said (in one of my very favourite books, The Log from the Sea of Cortez)  that American society pays lip service to abstract ‘good’ values like ‘wisdom, tolerance, kindliness, generosity, humility.’ But in reality? The man who forced Americans to confront the realities of the Great Depression argues that we ‘envy and admire the person who through possessing the bad qualities [cruelty, greed, self-interest, graspingness, and rapacity] has succeeded economically and socially, and will hold in contempt that person whose good qualities have caused failure.’ We love Jesus in the abstract, he says, but we’d rather be successful than good. Because to be good is to be weak. A ‘value’ we see repeated over & over in the current electoral results.

This is painfully evident today. We see sharing — w/ the poor, w/ other countries, w/ the elderly and people who look different than we do — as a sign of weakness. Those people, I hear over & over. Those loafers. Those non-believers. Those who are not like me. I hear people say ~ I have to work hard. They just want it free. Hence the horrific “health” plan that will leave the elderly, those w/ health conditions, and many many other Americans w/ no hope of health care.

I don’t really know how to draw lines between human hearts. If we all believe in the magic that keeps the world turning, does it matter whether we call it God or Allah? Or science? If our children laugh when tickled, does it matter whether their first words are English, Czech or Spanish?moral virtue

Don’t all parents awaken each morning hoping that their children will grow up happy? That our sons & daughters will find meaningful work, be able to live on the proceeds, and be safe from war and want? If so, why is it we can’t meet there? What is so damn important that we can’t sit down over tea and talk? How the HELL do we expect our children — ALL our children — to become what we dream of w/out benefit of education? I would think even the most diehard no-funding proponent would see that an educated populace is an economic advantage for all of us. Even w/out benefit of their taxes, the educated can work, and support themselves…

We cut education $$ because we would rather give tax breaks to 1% of American taxpayers than fund reading and writing programs that do hundreds of thousands of children good. In my previous state of residence — Oklahoma — we have cut education funding more than ANY other state. And we’re proud of it, most of us. But me? I’m grieving. Mourning for a country that I thought believed in our children. That cherishes them as our future.

I keep poking this wound. Even though I was expecting this outcome, knowing that I’ve agreed w/ Steinbeck on this since I first read him, I am heartsick. I know that there is enormous fear and hatred raging at floodtide throughout the country. And I don’t understand it.

As I drove to get coffee yesterday, I passed houses redolent with the fragrance of old money. Their bricks were all neatly pointed. Nary a shingle curled. Each fence contained its private sanctuary with evenly spaced and level boards. The neighbourhood was so beautiful in the balmy not-quite-summer sunlight that it made you smile in delight. People live here, I thought. In these houses as big as libraries. Within these walls of stone and brick and privilege. But it didn’t make me jealous. It made me deeply aware of how blessed we are. How blessed the owners of those lovely old homes are. How much we have to be thankful for, and how often we feel that offering opportunities — real, tangible, concrete opportunities — to those less fortunate is ‘redistribution of wealth.’

In Wisconsin recently, there are people who said they have no jobs, so why should others? What happened to empathy? If my life is hard, I don’t want everyone to be at my level. Misery really doesn’t love company. Even when I was poor — so poor that I did w/out a telephone, had no TV, lived in a 3-room shotgun apartment cut from 1/4 of an old derelict house in a very bad neighbourhood — I wanted peace and plenty for all. I didn’t begrudge pocket mansions or expensive imported cars. I just wanted every one of my friends to have the opportunity for the same.

And this week, it feels like that hope is a completely dead American dream. And I can’t understand why.

NaPoWriMo ~ catching up (9)

NaPoWriMo ~ catching up (9)

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt wasn’t particularly hard. I just wanted it to be more than it was — I had grander plans than a short poem about a news bright. Who knows? Maybe I’ll return to it, and rescue it from its 9-line plight.

Here’s the prompt:

Because today is the ninth day of NaPoWriMo, I’d like to challenge you to write a nine-line poem. Although the fourteen-line sonnet is often considered the “baseline” form of verse in English, Sir Edmund Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene using a nine-line form of his own devising, and poetry in other languages (French, most particularly) has always taken advantage of nine-line forms. You can find information of various ways of organizing rhyme schemes, meters, etcetera for nine-line works here. And of course, you can always eschew such conventions entirely, and opt to be a free-verse nine-line poet.

And the poem:

The headline says they are ‘untangling’
Khipu language. Where words are tied
Into knots, twisted into cords, dyed
In colours that have meaning.
Language made tangible. Material.
The way I stuffed my mouth with cloth
As a child, hoping I could weave words
Into something like the khipu
Something that would last forever.

More on ~ why blog? why write at all??

More on ~ why blog? why write at all??

A writer friend of mine is thinking of beginning a blog for a journal she edits. She asked several of the advisory & editorial boards to be thinking of possible blog posts. The response astonished me. NOT because they were interested (I expected that — writers ❤ having their names in even online print!), but because they didn’t have a CLUE about blogs.

Yes, they (some of them…) read them. And all of them knew blogs are electronic media. But these pretty smart folks were talking about blog posts of 1,000-1,500+ words! Basically, essays (some even said ‘essays.’) I’d put it down to the advanced age(s) of the majority, but in point of fact? Most are younger than I am… Big sigh.

i’ve been blogging regularly, for national outlets, for more than 5 years — almost 6. Not forever, but it’s not that old a medium, right? And it is its own animal, shorter than the essay it echoes. More white space than a newspaper article, even. Shorter paragraphs (a suggestion which I often observe only in rejection!), and a more informal tone. I know these parameters well, even when I choose to reject them (which I do, as my various web tools will nicely inform me!). The conventional blog wisdom is that a blog post should be between 300-500 words (I’m already at 220 here), and feature a lot graphics. I accept the graphics — it’s the web, right? — but I often go over on the length. I justify my wordiness with the caveat that my audience is pretty much used to reading longer pieces than any blog I’m going to write!

But the purpose of a blog is different, as well. As a long-time teacher of writing, from academic writing to personal essay to poetry to blog, what colours my writing (& writing pedagogy) most is years of journalism. The cardinal rule (which fits in with my rhetoric background nicely!) is: know your audience. It’s one of the main reasons I started this blog, when I was already blogging for a national website. The national website is very nice folks, but 90% of their emphasis is Christian, with a strong lean to the evangelical. That couldn’t be less in line w/ my own leanings. I’m like…I must be the Buddhist Unitarian token…?

So here I am, reaching a fraction of the readers I did elsewhere, and still hopeful numbers will change. I’ll never be a viral commodity (too long! too wordy! too whatever!), but that’s never been why I write, to be ‘famous.’ I just want to offer a map on what is often — at least for me — a pretty dark journey. Especially in these days of polarised politics & hard-hearted demagogues. Writing is one of the few ‘talents’ (cultivated as a skill, let me tell you!) I can offer to ‘the cause’ of compassion, of lovingkindness. Of mettametta

Non-Sanskrit speakers mostly translate metta as ‘lovingkindness.’ And that’s how I think of it, certainly. But the infinitely wise Sharon Salzberg, in one of her many disquisitions on metta, notes that it’s really much more than that. It’s connection, love, intimacy. But NOT simply with others. With ourselves, our own lives, as well. For if we can’t love & connect & be grateful for our own happiness, how can we offer that to others? It’s sooo much harder for me to forgive my own fallibility than it is to see the reasons behind the actions of someone I love.

But Salzberg reminds us: each life has the same merit. Hard for me to believe when I compare my own life to that of a leader like the Dalai Lama, or Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Or US Congressman John Lewis, whose angry passion offends some, while it awes me. I look at him as a force of the best of nature: the fire that brings life to the prairie, by destroying the waste that lies before it. I’m definitely not good at seeing us equal lives!

I’m sure this seems a looong way from blogging! But it isn’t. The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama have great gifts. I have only my small one — writing, and a determined voice. So putting it out there is what I do to contribute. Even when I know it’s only a small voice. And even when it means telling folks who are SURE they know…what they don’t know. About blogging. About the different kinds of writing. About media. But NOT about life. 😉

Why scholarship (& science, and all that logical stuff) matters ~

Why scholarship (& science, and all that logical stuff) matters ~

There’s a lot of media attention these days to ‘false news sites.’ I taught research for more than 20 years, and I used to call such sites ‘underwear sites.’ Because anyone can set up a website. You don’t have to be knowledgeable in anything much: you can do it in your underwear. And the information is worth about as much.

For the most part, students HATE research papers. They’ll kid you that they like research (and to be fair, a few actually do…a very few). Then they’ll whine (A LOT) about the research paper itself, how it’s artificial (yes). How it has to be done certain ways (yes again). And how they’ll never write another research paper (possibly true, although not nearly as true as they’d like to believe; we just don’t call them research papers at work…)

But here’s the deal: only in the research paper process do you have the opportunity (indeed, the moral obligation) to teach students about source evaluation. And hold them responsible for being users of credible reearch. Something it’s evident most voters — on both sides of the aisle — are woefully incapable of. Because it’s NOT ‘credible, authoritative information/research/evidence to support your argument’ if you can ONLY find it on personal blogs. Or on only one news source (whether that’s For or democraticunderground). At the very least, in such cases, the ‘news’ is highly suspect — usually downright false. You must be able to locate the same information in multiple sources, none of which are what I taught my students to call ‘agenda-ed.’

Because we don’t tend to think of sources WE respect as ‘biased.’ Even if they are. I was horrified when I realised that 2 websites I quite enjoy aren’t totally objective. They have liberal agendas (which isn’t exactly the same as bias, as I used to explain to my students). The KKK is NOT a reliable source of information about civil rights, or African American history. Or much else, honestly. They are overtly biased against African Americans, and against anyone who isn’t, no matter how they pretty their racism up with euphemism. They also have an agenda: they want to return the US to a whites-only country (the fact that it never was is apparently not relevant).

The American Cancer Society, on the other hand, has an agenda — to cure cancer — but isn’t biased. It won’t tell you lies about things that cause cancer. It will publish what it finds, however, including new research. The KKK will tell you lies about various African American historical figures; the American Cancer Society will not lie to you. There’s a caveat here: research unearths & re-evaluates current knowledge. So what the ACS told us about cancer 30 years ago may not be at all what today’s research reveals. That’s the whole basis of science: it reflects the LATEST data, parsed by experts. Hence climate change.

This is a very difficult concept for many people to get their heads (& hearts) around. Entire political campaigns have been run on bias (if you’re anti-immigration of all Muslims, that’s not an agenda; that’s bias). You may think you have good reasons. You may even have read ‘research’ on your position(s) in various media outlets, from TV news to newspapers to websites. However, it has both bias (Muslims=bad) and an agenda: to ‘rid’ America of Muslims. And the people behind these websites are pretty obvious. IF you take the time to dismantle the ‘About Us’ section at the top of most sites.

Digression: most Americans under the age of 50 (and many well over) consider themselves tech-literate. Yeah, maybe. I’d have to disagree when it comes to evaluation of online sources, however. As noted, I’ve taught research for years, and have been a heavy computer & Internet user since the first linked systems. I still get hoodwinked by fake news sites, primarily humourous ones, but still…! A LOT of satirical websites want to fool you — they think it’s funny. Unfortunately, many of us are believers before skeptics. So we (unknowingly) ‘buy’ fake news. And it’s now such a common occurrence that we have entire articles devoted to it.

I love research. Always have. I read science & nature writing for fun, untangling the braided skeins of data that go into studies taking place over years. I continue to try to unravel ‘real’ news from ‘fake,’ even when the fake stuff comes from (ostensibly) American ‘leaders.’

So I’m repeating this for folks who believe that religion, or faith, or what’s said in a religious text, overrule science & reason: No. They call it ‘faith’ because you have to believe it. It isn’t ‘prove-able.’ I can no more prove the miracle of the loaves & fishes than I can disprove it. Same with miracles credited to other wisdom traditions (and every religion has them): I can’t prove Buddha’s reincarnations (no weirder to contemplate than heaven), or Krishna’s magic powers (no stranger than powers attributed to relics of the saints) or the mercy of Allah.

You may want desperately to believe that X politician is a crook, because another pol you adore said so. But chances are, unless you can find that info on credible, reliable sources lacking ANY agenda or bias (Reuters isn’t bad), it’s false.

You may agree w/ it. It may even be your innate faith. That does NOT make it true. (That’s why they call it faith: you have to BELIEVE it.)

Sorry — scholarship has spoken 🙂