Saturday, January 31, 2009

Boldly To Go

I am a big fan of Star Trek. This is always a bit of a problem for me, since I am neither a fanatic collector of minutiae about the series nor a person who would dress up as anyone, besides possibly Johnny Cash. And that's an accident: we both just like black. I could be dressing up as Death too.

But I really do like the series, everything about it. I love the grand themes, the "wagon train in space" conceit of it all, the Kirk/Spock dynamic...everything. Detractors of the series focus on the poor production values, and the acting of Kirk, as major problems. To me the sets are just sets, and I never get that into special effects or scenery. As my buddy Herc pointed out when discussing the first Godzilla film, a theme that invokes the human experience survives poor production values much better than a film with good production and zero heart. The original Star Trek had some great scripts, some mediocre ones, and some bad ones. But at its best, it was a great show.

Unlike the hardcore Trek fans, I like the other shows in the Trek universe as well. I mean, Enterprise was not so good, granted. But even that had some nice moments. Honestly my least favorite was probably Voyager, just because as someone without access to tv all of the time it became hard to follow. "The Next Generation" was fun, because it expanded the theme of humanity's potential. Patrick Stewart was so great to watch, and always dominated the show. It seemed like the show was really the continuation of the Kirk/Spock story, grown up. Picard was the person who said, "Yep, got that, logic and heart, I do it all. I'm so smart and enlightened all my hair burned off. Our ship can do anything you imagine, we're the best, bring on the Borg."

The original series, or TOS as people insist on saying, is the classic. The setting is at its most basic here, a ship out in space, cut off from civilization, an emissary of that culture but not wholly encompassed by it. As I have gone on and on about before to friends and family, I love the Kirk and Spock interaction in that context.They represent the two aspects of humanity that would choose to make that voyage, the heart and the mind. (Yeah Spock is not a human. But that's just to make it all sci fi. He's a human from another planet. It's like a brother from another mother, but in space.)(The end of "The Wrath of Khan" is the best explanation of this, when Kirk praises Spock for teaching them about humanity.)

Spock wants to explore in order to gain knowledge, and expand his mind. Kirk feels driven to explore. It's his nature to expand, and he doesn't care why or how. It's about the experience for Kirk, and because of this he doesn't always make the clearest decisions. They are each there to remind the other of the benefits and weaknesses of their approach. Kirk: Logic isn't important if it isn't applied to people, for people. Spock: Boldly going is great, but step back and think of the impact before you do. Whatever elements the series had to begin with, this basic theme comprised the heart of the story.

I am way more of a Kirk person, and Jaime is a Spock. (Please for the love of God don't read too much into that. If I even hear a hint of the term slashfic in the comments I will cry silently to sleep for weeks.) I don't think, I'm impulsive and emotional, and Lord am I sentimental. (See the above scene in "The Wrath of Khan" for sappy sentimental Kirk, with whom I identify more than I should.) Jaime is logical, intense, and serious. She doesn't have patience for incompetence or mistakes, especially her own. We need each other, and that's why our relationship has lasted so well. We appreciate the respective strengths and weaknesses, and make it come together.

Kirk operates on faith. He cobbles together a solution when he needs it, and hits the ground running when he falls, assuming a problem will come with a solution. And of course it does. Much is made of the structure of the episodes, where Kirk meets a girl, brings her to sweet Federation bliss, then goes and fights a monster. This has silliness, of course, but there is something awesome to it. Kirk is acting from the heart, but he can be shallow without the balance of wisdom that Spock brings. He woos the girl, gets in a fight, and goes in guns blazing to solve the problem. That doesn't work in every situation, and he often is forced to confront his own shallowness in the course of a story.

There are times, however, especially in a strange place with people out to get you, that it does work. Fighting a certain enemy, such as Khan, means you need Kirk. "I don't believe in a no win scenario," he says to the logical minded among the crew during his battle with Khan. More importantly to me, this aspect of Kirk appeals to men precisely because it taps into that sense of honor that is latent within all men, the idea that you sometimes have to dive in and make things right. Shatner hammed it up to no end, but in this way he nailed the character of Kirk perfectly: he's a gunslinging, fighting and loving man, no holding back. It isn't the most inspired screen performance, but when you are around full throttle people like that, they must seem a little over the top. I'm not nearly that uninhibited, but if you put my antics on a television I bet I'd look a little hammy too, arms waving and voice rising and falling. Letting loose isn't pretty: great actors are taught to restrain, to say little and project. Kirk isn't like that, and certainly Shatner isn't.

I was raised with Star Trek. I'll always remember watching it as a child, and listening to my dad's take on it. He told me that the future could look like that, we could keep exploring and expanding if we allowed it to happen. I think a central theme of my life is the hope that humanity is as good as the image we portray in this story. Because if we can ever be that, looking back on this, I don't think I'd have such a hard time with this. I still get excited when I see the show, and watch the Enterprise orbiting a planet. (I think the new movie is using CGI, which is a shame. The models are so great.) It's a toy ship, but it's a possibility. We have free will, we have intelligence, we can make something like that, and that's exciting to me. It's the sentimental side of me, yes, but I get excited about the future. I don't know what it'll bring, of course. But I get excited. I wonder what my kids and grandkids will see. I imagine that Viri II and Arkaedi Jr. will be living their own lives, making do in whatever society they find themselves. I hope they aren't in solid pastel uniforms, but you wear what fashion dictates, I suppose. I sure as hell hope they boldly go, though, wherever their hearts and minds tell them to go.

Speed Baby Is Actually Racer X, Speed's Brother

I would really like this set to an old straight edge song. Or Elvis's "Viva Las Vegas."

Alternatively, dark somber narration about the perils of meth addiction.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm Going to Indie Rock My Way To The Bank!

There is something deeply twisted about this. I love the goofy names of the instructors. (I didn't link to the actual dvd because... well, I like you.)

They're called things like "Chaos" and "Page Turner." When you resort to porn names, you are really in an odd area. I was willing to accept porn indie rockers, actually. It didn't seem like such a leap from singing about love But this is amazing. Sad and funny at the same time. Like inflatable furniture.

I'm looking forward to the spin offs. Yoga for the straight edger, with Bold lyrics to meditate to! Special guest instructor Drug Free. I'm as straight as the line that my plank pose forms! Yoga for Goth kids, with your instructor Gloom, and his submissive slave, Doom. You don't actually do a workout in the goth yoga. You practice getting into and out of leather costumes.

I don't really get the audience here. I truly hope it's teenagers and college kids looking to workout, and not housewives trying to reclaim some strange credibility for their kids. Although the irony factor probably falls away quickly with something like this, I suppose that is an option too.

I do feel god about this in one way: this is the death knell for indie rock. No one can ever use that phrase again without me thinking of this hilarious marketing campaign and being a little bit happier than I was before I ever knew who the Get Up Kids were. So thank you, anonymous businessman, for making me laugh about love songs...again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Waylon and Willie, and the Pretty

Unlike the lad, Arkaedi Sue has developed quite the love of music. She is a big fan of Elvis, at least the rendition sung badly by Papa, and she absolutely loves late seventies country. We have done a good bit of dancing to "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies" and "Ain't No God in Mexico," which is no end of fun.

I really enjoy this musical period myself. There is a humor and self-awareness that I really like, and you know that they are just having a blast. Some of the most quotable and strange lines come from these songs. "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies":
[Cowboys like] little warm puppies, children and girls of the night.
"Ain't No God in Mexico":
If I'd never seen the sunshine then I would not curse the rain. If my feet could fit the railroad tracks, I guess I'd been a train.
Jennings got strange in old age, and rumor has it later took seriously goofy songs he wrote in jest, like "Okie from Muskogee." If that's true, it's sad. At least Willie has kept his sense of fun.

Growing up, I was surrounded by the dueling stupid periods of country music: 80s and 90s country, pop beats and stupid hats, with boastful songs and rich suburban kids claiming they were truly country, repeatedly, and had the mullets to prove it. And Vegas style, shiny sequined jackets and short hair. The Willies, Waylons and Johnny Cash artists were out there, I imagine, but they didn't trickle down from the smoky old pool rooms to my television in West By God. Which is for the best, I suppose. I like them now, and I can give them to my kids without any preconceived ideas or fantasies of my youth. I wasn't a cowboy, I was a bored child in the country reading comic books. Now, Arkaedi Sue can be a dancing child in Seattle, but there's plenty of room to pretend to be a cowgirl. Or an outlaw musician. She'll look better in the braids than Willie.

PS. That first image is Willie, pre-braids. I like the turtleneck. The hippies did bad things to you, my friend. Braids AND pot? Sad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I've Failed At This, Let's Protest It!

I'm not a terribly opinionated person these days. That is a change in me from my punk rock roots.

This isn't to say that I don't have opinions, because of course I do. But the fiery, I'm right and you're stupid brand of egotism that sometimes reared its head in me as a punk rocker are less of an issue with me now. One reason is the realization that I'm not always right, and there may be ways of approaching issues differently that are effective. And the ongoing ridiculousness of punk rock is another.

I've always enjoyed the punk scene, the various bands and groups that have passed through my life. I feel like I've learned a lot from being involved, and I'll always be glad that I was. But I needed a small group of dedicated and fun people, which I got in the contained scenes in which I was involved. The punk scene was what me and my friends were doing, not a movement or a subculture or a music magazine. Most of my friends were a part of it, we did most of the work and had most of the fun, and everyone knew everyone else. Often more intimately than was sensible or hygienic. Anytime I ventured into the broader subculture, I was appalled and annoyed. I didn't get the flag waving, the fashion silliness, the divisions. (Apparently neither did anyone else: indie rock became emo, hardcore became metal. People ask me what my band sounded like and I throw up my hands and scream, "I don't know!")

Punk rock was the protest of my friends, and in a small way maybe the protest of my generation. The bands we liked did songs about sexism, capitalism, and gender identity. But somewhere the political expressions of a small group of sincere, silly kids became something like a movement. It crossed paths with the evil hydra of political protest, and went careening into hell.

One large reason for this is that people fall into these little offshoots of pop culture when they don't do a very good job of fitting into the broader society. Some people form a critique of aspects of their social structure, and decide it isn't for them. Some simply fail their way into whatever group is too nice or open to kick them out. As is pointed out to my hero Homer Simpson, in any other country they would have starved to death long ago.

So, the reason for this train of thought: I was approached by a gaggle of punk rockers at the bus stop as I was trying to get my kids moving. They asked me for money for the bus. I'm a nice guy, I had a few quarters, so I gave it to them. I wanted to point out, though, that it isn't anti-capitalist to beg money for the bus from guys who have kids, based on the assumption that they are not poor like you. It's just that I am doing the capitalist slaving for them. So instead of wasting their precious time being enslaved to the man, my enslavement to the man allows them to ride the bus in addition to allowing my kids to eat. (Technically, I work for myself, kinda. So the man referred to is me. But still.)

I knew a ton of these people when I was more involved with the political world. They lived off of food stamps or disability, and spent their days railing against the system and trying to pick up college girls. Which is fine. (MORE than fine.) But once you fail severely at being a part of the system, you lose credibility when you attack it. I always liked the former big shot businessman who quits and works as an organizer. All six or seven of them that have ever existed.

We need people to challenge the problems of this society. But we need sincerity and self awareness from these people in order for anything real to happen. I see so little of that that I cannot be involved in any way with people that, ostensibly, I agree with. Which says something unfortunate about the state of activism today, or about Americans today.

One big problem is the romanticism of the movement. People protest wars and injustice as though there is something good in it. There isn't. I would very much like it if there were no problems, and no protests. That is the ideal state of being. If things are bad enough that we must do something about it, that isn't nice: it's merely necessary. You almost get the sense that these people are happy that problems exist, so they can protest and fight. I am against unregulated business polluting our environment and paying us crap because that is bad for us. I'm not happy to be against it. It isn't good that we have to even have the conversation! When it becomes a lifestyle, we're in a weird area.

I feel about political awareness the same way I do about violence. I don't like it, I wish it didn't exist, but I do my duty to my friends and family if I am threatened. Choosing to ignore it and fetishizing it are both poor options, to my mind.

(PS Edit: I have corrected a million things in this post, any more typos just have to be accepted. Or protested!)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dancin' Party

It is always interesting to me how I love working with children, but have no patience for various children's activities. This isn't a weakness in my field: on the contrary, kids see that about me and love it. Listening to Raffi uncritically gets blank stares from children. Telling children you are quite certain Raffi is high as a kite gets appreciative, knowing nods. Kids get this stuff better than we think.

I love having little dance parties with the kids. I complain about the music, and they laugh at me. They love it. Direct Source, some bizarre and probably evil music company, puts out a lot of music marketed to kids about dancing and fun. Mostly they are creepy songs, with strange lyrics that are either not meant to be comprehended or are missives from Hell's black heart. I hope the former. (They also publish Conway Twitty. Obviously the latter.)

Viri doesn't usually get into these, but occasionally he'll break out some choice moves. When the ladies are present and not biting on his typical "I'm a shark monster you're a giant turtle" line. You know, the real ice queens.

One song on the cd "Best of Dancin' Party" has a line, and I hope desperately that I'm wrong here, saying "That's what I call ballin' the jag." Either I am hearing it way wrong, or this isn't meant for a kid's cd. I mean Conway, maybe. But not children! I don't understand who puts together these compilations, or really why. I can't imagine there is any benevolence in a company called Direct Source, but who am I to judge.

Oh, wait, I'm the guy who spends his days surrounded by the stuff. I'm exactly the guy to judge. And I do!

On a side note, this is a goofy and light post because today I made a huge mistake and screwed up Jaime's residency application. I opened a sealed envelope that was meant for the school, and now a new one has to be ordered, and there may not be time before the deadline. So I feel like the load of loads, and don't want to keep beating myself up over it. J is being very sweet, but the fact is it was a stupid mistake and shouldn't have happened. Sometimes I don't really pay attention, it's a major fault of mine. I live in my head, and today I saw how that can screw up real things, like our plans for the next year, with one careless moment. So, lesson heard. I hope I can really learn it. My goal from this is to break that habit, and really think things through before stumbling around town like an idiot man-child. I'm going to make more mistakes, of course, but I'll be damned if I'll make them so easily now. The loading stops here!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fake Miniature Fun!

I discovered recently that there is a website that allows you to make a photo appear to be a model. It's called tilt-shift, though purists argue that the miniature effect making isn't really tilt shift. I don't know the photography nuance but boy, is it fun.

Here are some photos that I took, in Japan and in Hawaii. I could be crushed by Gamera at any second! The effect isn't so great with these photos, since they were taken from ground level and don't include a huge sweep. It works best with a huge crowd, from above. Still, a fun little feature. I can't wait to get some nice panoramic shots of Seattle and try this out.

Running around the web during nap time leads to goofy discoveries like this. There is a good reason I am naturally inclined to live in a hut without electricity: this is what I do with it when I have it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

He's a Jaguar, You Know

I got to watch Godzilla vs. Megalon again today, and enjoy the Jet Jaguar theme song. It doesn't get any more comprehensible, but it is a fun movie to watch with other people. I'm not totally sure, but I think it is the third time that I have put it on when Herc and Sarah have come over.

I genuinely love the old kaiju movies. There is something sincere about them, which is odd when you consider they are goofy films about giant monsters crushing Japan. Most of the movies don't even pretend to be anything else; they stick a guy in a huge rubber suit, tack on a cliche message about meddling in God's domain, and have at it.

Godzilla vs. Megalon is one of my favorites, though, if only for Jet Jaguar. He's a big robot, designed by people, though he becomes sentient somehow during the movie. He has his own theme song, which I haven't fully translated. The first line cracks me up every time. Roughly translated, it goes, "He was made by people, he's a robot but... Jet Jaguar. Jet Jaguar. He's a jaguar after all."

Jaime disagrees with me, and thinks "He's a Jaguar, you know" is a better translation. I don't agree linguistically, but I have to agree that, "He's a jaguar, you know" is an awesome line. I'm going to start using it in daily conversation. (President Obama's pick of the Secretary of the Interior is John Thompson. He went to Yale. He's a jaguar, you know.)

Something of my fascination with Japan can be explained be these films, I just know it. There is a grandiose mythos attached to a goofy, simple architecture. Everything is mismatched yet uniform. I know there is a way that this makes some kind of connection in my brain.

And if not, hey I got two guys in rubber suits duking it out on a sound stage in Tokyo. Maybe, just maybe, that's enough.

(No, it isn't.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Danger: Coffee Here

One of the fun yet bad habits I have picked up living in Seattle is coffee. Not the strange suburban "triple hazelnut mint julep banana nut surprise" kind of coffee drinking, but the slightly better, though arguably still irritating, "trying different blends and debating single origin savoring the shot" kind of coffee drinking.

I was given an espresso machine, so life is wonderful. It is, however, a dangerous invention for me. If I were the kind of person who could take coffee in moderation, it would be fine. I tend to overdo, however. Not the ten cup a day kind of thing, thankfully for those around me. But I will have three or four shots, a bit more than I should really intake in a normal day. Especially considering that my normal energy level is a bit higher than average. It helps when dealing with kids, but it makes normal adults around me want to tie me to a bench outside of the donut shop while they have a quiet drink inside.

As I have said in the past, though, it's worth it. Hot beverages make the world a nicer place, if only for a few minutes. Have found some great new places to try, and until Jaime literally tries to restrain me, I'll keep enjoying delicious warm beverages.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seattle Tip of the Week

Today I'm starting another regular feature of this little blog of mine. It'll be a general tip to living in our fair city of Seattle.

Unlike most other urban places in the country, Seattle has remained pretty provincial. I don't mean this in the derogatory way that some people do when discussing Seattle, but I do think it's true. This causes some strange occurrences for those who are used to other large cities.

Traffic, for instance. We deal with it, if you've spent any time in cities, you hate it but it happens. Seattle is not terribly difficult to navigate, really, but it boggles the minds of people who attempt to drive here. After living in Osaka, and getting around large east coast cities, I find Seattle relatively tame. But the average Seattle motorist is appalled that anyone else is driving on their roads. They shake fists, and express comic disgust when you wait for people at crosswalks, or pull to the right for a fire engine. Being good Northwesterners, they don't do anything as garish as honking or squealing tires; but you can tell they want to scream at you. On the rare occasions they do honk I usually jump in surprise. I never did that in Osaka. Viri: "That car's talking." Nordic reserve prevents any outward display of emotion beyond a toss of the hand, or an exaggerated "What?" face in your direction. (If you ever challenged them on this I bet they'd tell you they had been rehearsing a play.)

There is also no use of the turn signal in any circumstance. You can take a left turn at sixty from a busy street across four lanes, no worries. I wonder if motorists occasionally wonder why the stick that turns the light on moves, and makes funny clicking noises when it does. I imagine they incorporate it into their reverie as they cruise. This is so bad that it has inspired a bit of urban legend that Washington state does not require use of turn signals. (Note: it does.)

Despite this apparent concern over traffic, however, everyone drives slowly. The rare transplant who speeds along city streets is treated with disgust. I have caught this behavior like a virus; I'm the slowest driver on Earth now. Grandmothers in east coast towns would roar past me in droves.

So, when you come to Seattle, drive leisurely. Take your time, don't bother with signaling or noticing fire engines or pedestrians. Be mellow, don't have any baggage or hang ups. We're all fine here. Everything's fine. How are you?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Child Juggling. Fun. Low Cost, Join a League!

I spend most of my time dealing with kids. Either my children or someone else's child is typically with me wherever I go. I enjoy this quite a bit, and it amazes me that most people don't. I had a bizarre conversation with a mother this week who was basically trying to find a way to find ways to keep her child away from her.

I understand needing a break, certainly. Kids take a lot of energy and time. But if I get more than a few hours away from my kids, I miss them. As they grow, they're going to have more and more of their own activities and hobbies, and my time will naturally decrease. That is the way things work, and it's fine. I look forward to being older and having my children live full and productive lives, and I don't regret that this will happen. But I can't imagine wishing that time away sooner.

One of the reasons I work with children is that I love them. They are so direct, and sweet. People sometimes think they are angelic, or pure, which I think is a big mistake. They hit and bite and scream too. But they do it honestly. There is a sincerity to kids, especially toddlers, that I really enjoy. The hippies who wish we could all just "be like kids" are pretty messed up, however. I'm glad I don't cry when I drop a raisin, or hide when I poop. I'm grateful to my wife when I bring up buying a new computer and she doesn't just scream at me or hit me and take the credit cards. Adult dialogue is rewarding and useful.

That said, I also don't get the people who want their children, or any children for that matter, to just go away. They are fun, and goofy and sincere. That's worth a little trouble. And they very quickly grow up and go away. That's worth the time.

Some of Viri's greatest hits so far:

"The poop was trying to escape. I said no, poop! Don't go back in my butt!"

"HA HA HA. This."

"People falling is funny. Butts are funny too."

"I left and you were sad and missed me and you cried."

"Hi, Haley! Shut up, Nick!"

Saturday, January 17, 2009


The death of Ricardo Montalban was a bit sad for me. He was a great one, and of course one of the best movie villains of all time. It reminded me of the weird stage I'm at culturally, where a lot of the people I grew up watching are dying. There will be a point, when I'm not much older than this, that a large percentage of my movie heros and villains are deceased. Odd. Once again I spent time thinking of the profound ways in which aging affected me, and missed this small but important element.

Montalban was a classic though. The perfect anti-Shatner. He played Khan just right, and created an iconic movie adversary. He was arrogant and slick, and always pushing the limits of everyone around him. That's the kind of guy you want to battle against. Well, no... I want to battle against a guy who messes up a lot and gives me a big lead and choreographs his evil scheme. But if I were Kirk, that's who I'd want. Someone who pushes you to be your best. There should be an alternate ending where he gets a job with Starfleet training cadets, and he always wins. And the cadet graduates if he gets the proper energy and emotion into his "Khan!" scream of defiance.

The conflict between Khan and Kirk was great fun to watch, and made Wrath of Khan a great film. Certainly the best in a hit or miss franchise. Star Trek is at its best when it sticks to the basics, a cowboy movie on the edge of space. Kirk is one aspect of our culture, the brazen sheriff, looking out for his people. Spock is the other, the civilized person making sense of a xrazy world. It's a fun theme, and it can really work when someone like Montalban is having a grand time with it. He digs right into the universe, and has at it.

Of course, Kirk won against him. He doesn't believe in a no win situation. Gotta love Kirk. I think people hate Kirk because he has become Shatner over the years. My wife hates the mention of Kirk. But he really is a neat character. He's very flawed, a noble figure with some personality problems. Hopefully Abrams does some good things with him. If the trailer is a sign of things to come, he will.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sufi Poems: Two

Today's verse is from a poem by Rumi that actually inspired me to start these Sufi poetry posts. It's a well known verse often translated as "Ali in Battle."

Learn from Ali how to fight
without your Ego participating.

God's Lion did nothing
that did not originate
from his deep center.

Once in battle he got the best of a certain knight
and quickly drew his sword. The man,
helpless on the ground, spat
in Ali's face. Ali dropped his sword,
relaxed, and helped the man to his feet.

"Why have you spared me?
How has lightning contracted back
into its cloud? Speak, my prince,
so that my soul can begin to stir
in me like an embryo."

Ali was quiet then finally answered,
"I am God's Lion, not the lion of passion.
The sun is my lord. I have no longing
except for the One.

When a wind of personal reaction comes,
I do not go along with it.

There are many winds full of anger,
and lust and greed. They move the rubbish
around, but the solid mountain of our true nature
stays where it's always been.

There's nothing now
except the divine qualities.
Come through the opening into me.

Your impudence was better than any reverence,
because in this moment I am you and you are me.

I give you this opened heart as God gives gifts:
the poison of your spit has become
the honey of friendship."

This has always been one of my favorite Rumi poems because of the clarity. He is always reminding the reader to let go of the ego, to seek the unity of the divine. In this case he explains through Ali how to act like a noble human being. "There is nothing now/except the divine qualities" is especially interesting, because it is a reminder that even Ali could slip away into ego, if he ceased the constant remembrance of the real.

As in many traditions, to be a darvish you must act from a place of balance, from a center. It is not possible to be in the moment and yet easily stirred by the events around you; being in the moment is grounding. When Ali was challenged to respond with ego, he responded with his divine qualities.

I think Rumi inspires people of many faiths precisely because he takes these moments and creates a poem that ties the specific cultural moment to the universal truth of the statement. A Muslim can read about Ali, and move from a place of piety and justice into the center. A Christian sees the mercy and forgiveness in the lines and finds a balance of his own. All of my years in Japan make me drawn to Rumi's use of "deep center" to describe the remembrance of the divine. And as a darvish, I understand the chivalric aspects of Ali's actions, which Rumi phrases so well.

Rumi begins the poem with the most important element: Learn from this. This is something which will point you on the path to understanding the universe. He ends it with the understanding that it is a gift, an offering to anyone willing to hear it. One of the most beautiful components of his poetry is the elegance with which he can make a profound point about the nature of truth. This is a gift to you, learn from it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pain, Pleasure, Large Quantities of Donuts

My second week of school is going well. The busy-ness has settled into a steady hum, the PRC is moving along, and I got to see seals the other day with the kids and Herc and Sarah! We stopped by the park after eating our way through a stack of donuts, and there were actual frolicking seals in the Sound! They seemed to be frolicking, at least, they were a ways out in the water.

The one thing that's getting to me is my health. As I enjoy my donuts and coffee, I'm beginning to feel as though their days are numbered. Or mine are. I've had this recurring issue of numbness and tingling, or paresthesia as Jaime likes to call it, for awhile now. It's associated with chest pain and a few other symptoms, which sounds kinda bad. So, I'm finally getting going on dealing with it. I've been to a few doctors, but I always get confused looks, due to the oddity of the symptoms. They make me feel as though I'm either a hypochondriac or a ninety year old man. But I am getting tired of the symptoms, and the worry it's causing Jaime. The last straw was me dropping my bag of chocolate chips due to having a weak grip. When my chocolate is threatened, I act.

(If the problems force me to give up sugar, the irony will not be lost on me.)

And speaking of irony. While enjoying some awesome cinema with the aforementioned Herc and Sarah, I was annoyed to find a person sporting ironic pink headgear in front of me. This person had two different pink hats, one on top of another. I really don't get this wave of ironic clothing that has swept the nation. I mean I understand, it's Kaliyuga and all, things are gonna get nuts. But wearing stupid clothing just to be stupid? Maybe he really liked the look, in which case, okay. Insanity is a medical condition, treatable and comprehensible. What is the pleasure in wearing clothing that you think is ridiculous to make a funny statement? I've worn some goofy clothes. But I wore it because I liked it, I thought it was fun. Ironically mocking yourself is just an odd pastime.

On the plus side, a big screen version of Rashomon was great fun. The movie was as great as I remember, dark and gorgeously shot. I had forgotten the amazing Ozu-style shots that Kurosawa did in this one. Brilliant.

A lot of attention goes to Toshiro Mifune in this, but I am always struck by Takashi Shimura, who plays the woodcutter. He was in a ton of great movies, a few of Kurosawa's. (and a kaiju flick tells me. Awesome!)

His best that I've seen is Ikiru. If I ever regret learning Japanese, reminding myself of the ability to watch this movie without subtitles sets me straight. It's an amazing, beautiful film. Along with Dodeskaden, (is this one available in English? I can't find an English title) Ikiru is one the most watchable Kurosawa movies for me. Unlike the intensity of Red Beard or Rashomon, these are deep films but not so shocking. (maybe it's the parent in me, but the scene at the end of Rashomon with the baby feels like a punch in the gut)

(Boy, a lot of parenthetical remarks today.)

(It's been a long day. Be thankful there aren't more sentence fragments.)

If donuts and Kurosawa movies and seals cure my health issue, I think I'll be on to the most fun treatment regimen ever devised. I'll patent it. Maybe I can call it Samurai Donut Seal!

(If that isn't already a cartoon. Sounds like it is.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Thomas the Really Useful Engine

I don't really like children's music, or children's movies. The daycare where I work often has the radio tuned to the local classical station. I hate children's clothing, which is why my children wear small versions of adult clothes rather than Spazz the Floppy Dog shirts with odd shaped pockets and detachable hoods with dog ears. Why can't my children just wear clothes like adults, cut to fit them? Viri looks good in jeans and sweaters, Arkaedi is very pretty in a dress. What's wrong with that? The answer is nothing at all. So, normal person clothes for them.

This makes my choice of career seem odd to some people, but it makes perfect sense to me. Children are small people, not their own category of being. Terry Pratchett has a great line in one of his books about this. A bogeyman is talking about the fairy stories and holiday customs, and says that in the past there were just humans, some big and some small, and we created little worlds and made the small people into children.

This is why my son usually watches Gamera, or the Simpsons. We have made one concession to the world of children, however. Recently we got him some dvds of Thomas the Tank Engine. It's a cute show, and being British it avoids the frenetic acid trip quality that many kids shows have. (Spongebob makes me want to check myself into a rehab clinic)

It's a general life lesson kind of show, teaching children not to brag or complain and to be helpful in a polite, vaguely distant English way. They focus a lot on being useful, and the theme song goes on about Thomas himself being useful. The "bad" trains in each story typically are less than useful. One entire story is devoted to a train (Scottish. Not sure what they're trying to say there...) that stops on a bridge and refuses to carry passengers. Everyone says he's a load, he gets in trouble, end of story. Not terribly objectionable, but odd and preachy in a children's show kind of way.

The trains look cool though. And they have crazy names. Viri loves the end of the show, when they flash past signs naming all of the trains, because I'll read them out. They're really fun to say, names like Skarloey and Sir Handel. (Skarloey sounds threatening. "Skarloey says pay 'im the money you owe.")

Sir Topham Hatt is the director of the railways, although Jaime always calls him the mayor. He's in charge, and very paternal and sympathetic. That's also a fun name to say. It makes me want to get knighted.

I'm not sure if this means I'm getting over my frustration with children's things or not. I just need to be a little particular. Being around kids all the time, you need to choose these things wisely, or you will be driven insane quickly. If Viri can stick to trains and Britain for a bit, I'll be okay.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Time

I spend a large amount of time involved with my work and my kids. The free time I get is like this evening, after nine, when everyone's asleep and I can relax and prepare for tomorrow. I spend a disturbing percentage of this time online, writing this or wasting time at the AVclub. (Goodreads takes up some energy too... sites that talk about books or movies are dangerous to discover.)

I'm spending a lot of this evening catching up on the wonderful collection of Bruce Springsteen that Herc gifted me.
After getting past how eerily similar he looks to my father, I can delve into stacks of the Boss from the seventies.

(Like George Lucas and certain members of Metallica, it is common knowledge that Bruce was kidnapped halfway through recording Born in the USA and taken to another planet. He now hangs out on the beach watching "Star Wars Seven: The Galaxy Sees True Awesomeness" while snuggling beautiful alien women.)(For your own sake, never mention the horror of the prequels in my presence. If it don't have Lando, dammit, it ain't Star Wars!)(Lando's not a system. He's a man.)

Therefore the current version that will play the Super Bowl in a few weeks is not the Boss. For the sake of convenience, to avoid confusion when referencing the different musicians, we can call him the Temp. The actual Boss, however: his early work is downright amazing. I live version of Dylan's "I Want You" alone is worth building a time machine to travel back to 1975. It's strange to here this music and think that I wasn't even born yet when he was playing onstage in Ohio. My parents were 100 miles away attending high school.

I never want to be one of those people who thinks everything prior to now is somehow better to now. I hope I'm not too guilty of that. I do find myself being gently tugged to the past more lately. I don't know if it's a slight bump, or a real trend. I just cleared out my hard drive, and noticed that I am not listening to anything made in the 90s or later. Granted I listen to a lot of jazz and classical, which skews the numbers a bit. My hardcore and punk is not getting played, though, and hasn't been for a few years. Maybe I will come back to it: I still feel as though I like it, I just don't want to hear it. I imagine many people my age are like that with the jazz and classical on their ipods, I suppose. They load it up, intent on listening, then go for the punk. I put the Ebullition catalog on mine, thinking it'd be fun to hear... then skip to Bach when I actually have the time to listen to music.

The Boss is starting Jungleland. That's my cue. (Danny Federici is amazing on that song, God rest your soul.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yes, I Am In Fact Ready For Some Football. Thank You.

Today was a day off, which meant donuts at Mighty-O, errands, and a fun game of football at Herc and Sarah's house. We watched it on a digital channel, on a giant TV, which got me wishing for a giant TV for the first time. And got Jaime saying no, not for the last time.

Viri is starting to enjoy football, which is fun. Dangerous. But fun.

My days are usually so packed that the day off has become extremely valuable. I enjoy my time now, and I enjoy spending it with friends. Having Herc and Sarah here has greatly increased my fun in free times, since they like to do a lot of the same things. Namely joking around and eating vegan treats. This can be accompanied by a football game, a bad movie, or a classic movie that I love and have never seen on the big screen.

I won't go on again about how much I love living in a city. But I will a little. The chance to use my rare free time to go to a theater and see a movie like Rashomon is amazing.

As much as I love West-By-God, I can't imagine changing into a constricting small town at this point in my life. I sing the lyrics to "Green Rolling Hills" to myself often, and I was thinking about the lyrics to that song, and others I love about West Virginia. They all tell you you have to leave! Then you come back when you're old, to die. I can really understand that; WV will always be my home, in a way that Seattle is not. But my life is lived here, the kids can go to good schools here, I can have a great time here. Then, I retire, sell my business, move back to WV and buy a giant piece of land.

Jaime argues against even that, she wants to move to Hawaii. As I get old and the cold sinks into my bones, maybe I'll agree. Jaime wasn't born in WV, though, so she doesn't have that odd sentimental attachment that I do. Hell my kids weren't born there. But I like the idea of going back, spending my last few years looking at the hills, and reflecting on my life from my home.

Until then, I will enjoy where I am. There is plenty of joking and vegan treats left for me, organic food to gorge myself on during playoffs, the Mariner's new season they haven't blown yet... and by next fall, after the baseball season and the World Series, I imagine that Herc and I will be more than ready for a little football, thank you kindly.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Apple Goes MAD!

Well, not really. But as someone who has had their itouch routinely autocorrect "woo hoo" to "wool hop," I can appreciate this. Freeze the screen at 1:05 for the great autocorrect suggestions. I think my favorite is "The aardvark admitted it was wrong."

That's big of you, aardvark.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sufi Poems: One

One of the greatest Sufi poets is Hafez. He is revered above all others, I think it's safe to say. The measure of his importance to Persian culture and Sufis in particular is illustrated by the commonly repeated statement that if there is only one book in a Persian household, it will be the Divan of Hafez.

Having the ability to read Hafez only in translation is a particular problem. According to native speakers, the poetry of Hafez is intensely difficult to capture, making use of complex imagery and allusion to which English cannot do justice. I appreciate this, of course, but as I said previously on translation, if it's what I can get I'll take it. The fact that Hafez frequently moves me to sit in raptured silence in the corner for hours in meditative prayer tells me that some aspect of his meaning is getting through to me. I do have a Robert Bly translation that was in the works for decades which I love. Bly is a member of my order, too, so I guess his approach resonates with me.

The verse that I have been contemplating for several days is this, translated in The Path by Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh:
The beggar at Your door
does not need the eight gardens of Paradise.
The prisoner of Your love
is freed from this world and the next.

The theme of this verse is a common one for the Sufi: The purpose of the practice is to abolish the ego and understand the unity of all things. There is no concern of an ego reward, whether it's the desire for reward here or the quest to win a ticket to heaven. These are all ego desires, and not worthy of a Sufi. The image of the beggar appears throughout Sufi poems, but Hafez especially seems to like this image. It is reinforced by Hafez that it isn't about you, spiritual understanding is about God. In order to achieve, you cast aside yourself in favor of Reality.

Understandably, Hafez was persecuted by the mainstream religious figures of his time. Boldly teaching to set aside ego and not be concerned for material gains does not play well with people who both depend on your taxes and expect you to be lulled into complacency by fears of hell and expectations of heaven. A poet who doesn't need the gardens of Paradise doesn't fear the demons of hell, either.

I thought of this verse once when I was accosted at the Seattle Center by some evangelical. I was with my kids, and he asked me if I was a good person, ever broke any commandments. I told him I was a reasonably good man, but sure, I had probably broken a few. He pulled out his trump card: Well, then aren't you worried about going to hell? Your kids? Do you want my get out of jail free card? And I told him I wasn't worried about going to hell, but not because I didn't believe in it. I mean what do I know? Maybe there is a hell. But I wasn't worried because I wanted to accept God's will, good or bad. I didn't like the idea of going to hell, but it didn't motivate me one way or the other.

He was flabbergasted. He was speechless. I wasn't trying to be clever, or give him a hard time, but I replied with the teachings that I have learned from my order, and my Sufi poems. I wasn't going to be a hypocrite. I'm a long way from being enlightened, but I don't imagine turning aside from my path because I'm afraid or greedy will get me any further.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Father Success: Humor and Monsters

One of the oddest and most fun aspects of parenting is the ability to indoctrinate your children with your interests. I have passed a major hurdle in parenting this week, because my sone is now interested in Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Gamera.

Some highlights include Viri informing us that Gamera is made of turtle meat, his interest in Gamera because he helps little boys (at least one boy, according to the movie. One boy per movie.) and his insistence that the "shark monster" (Guiron) can be nice, and the movie makers got it wrong.

It often gets overlooked in discussions of parenting, but kids are really fun. All the big stuff is there too: they are a lot of work, they are challenging, they can be expensive, they teach you about love and truth. Yes, all true. But they are also funny, and the process of learning is hilarious to watch.

Taviri once pointed at something and said, "Ha ha ha. This." You can't write jokes that good.

My work week is getting into full swing, and I notice all of the frustration that sets in when I deal with the logistics of running a daycare. But the kids are amazing, and I am thankful that I found out how much I enjoy working with them. Five years ago I would have thought you were insane if you had told me that my calling was to deal with toddlers. Now I think this is the job I was made to do.

I have always intellectually appreciated the fact that we discover ourselves as we grow. To actually reflect on it is strange. I'm such a different person in many ways than I was last year. In many ways, the child is still there. I'm happy I had the presence of mind, or dumb luck, to listen when this opportunity presented itself. Now I know something about myself that I needed to understand to enjoy my work.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Real World, Working People

We have more snow in Seattle, which means work will be an issue tomorrow. I have to navigate scary roads and scarier drivers to get to the daycare, which is high on a hill in a northern suburb.

(If I write a fantasy novel about work, that's how it'll start: High on a hill, in a northern suburb, Castle Daycare loomed.)

We had meetings and interviews at work today, which was frustrating but had some fun moments. We hired a few new people who I hope will work out well. It reminds me again though how much I want to be in charge of my own business. The committee system for running a daycare is not functional for me. Philosophically I like it, but practically I just need to run it in a way that meshes with my thinking.

I spent the evening watching snow fall and watching a MST3K treatment of Gamera Vs. Guiron, which was great fun. Taviri was really into it. He wasn't sure why the giant turtle was flying, but he liked that it was nice.

I'm hoping to organize a more regular schedule for these blogs. It started as a personal diary, a random collection of things I found interesting or relevant. And that's mostly how it'll stay. But some things are going to have a regular appearance, such as the Sufi poetry post. As the quarter evolves and I discover how insane our schedule is, this will become more clear. As it evolves and people ask questions and express interests I may change how I'm doing. According to my google statistics, the only hit from search engines I've gotten is in response to the query "straight edge merman." So, I won't listen too carefully to the voices of the internet. That way, madness lies.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Apps, Dinner, and Mental Illness

We had a great time tonight at a friend's house, eating dinner and watching our children run wild. Which they'll do. It was awesome, though, and it reminded me how much I need to take time to socialize more.

I learned about a fun new band, found silly and entertaining new uses for my itouch, and ate some great food.

So, all is well. Until I have to go back into the real world tomorrow.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sufi Poems: Intro

I have decided to do a series of posts about Sufi poetry. This is mainly in response to my own discussion among friends and acquaintances about Sufism, about my order, and specifically about certain poems and images that they run across. These are just my thoughts and experiences, I don't profess to be an expert, so bear that in mind. And more importantly, the mistakes and errors in judgement that come from my words are completely my own, and don't reflect on my order or my teachers. I just want to lay down these ideas somewhere they can be shared and discussed, in hopes that myself or others glean some small benefit from them.

The first discussion I always have with people who have an interest in Sufism is always about wine. Sufi poetry mentions wine a lot, and people are often very curious about that for two reasons. One, they wonder why an order from a part of the world that mostly avoids wine talks so much about wine. Or two, and related, is that they are eager to be a part of an order that talks so much about wine.

Wine is used in poetry to express different things, but always in Sufi poetry the author is steering the reader away from the self, the ego, and towards Divine Unity. I think it is a mistake to take even a word of most Sufi poetry literally, but this is especially true with words like wine. Fundamentalists and material minded people speak of the dangers of wine, the evils of wine, and in some sense this is the spirit that the Sufis are invoking; after all to be a Sufi you are setting aside dogma to pursue the Truth, unvarnished. But of course the poet isn't talking about getting drunk in the woods after prom either. The wine of Sufis is the pure ecstasy of Divine attention.

As Sufis we strive for the experience of Unity. We seek to let go of ego, and holding on to notions of our own can only be limiting. Enlightenment isn't a logical puzzle to be worked out, or a goal for the hardest runner. The poems attempt to pull you away from your ego, show you glimpses of the nature of the universe. There isn't a need for alcohol, or the need to stand around yelling at others about drinking, when your ego isn't involved. As Rumi says:

There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.

Don't think all ecstasies
are the same!

Jesus was lost in his love for God.
His donkey was drunk with barley.

Drink from the presence of saints,
not from those other jars.

Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.

Be a connoiseur,
and taste with caution.

I imagine there will be a lot of Rumi in these posts, since Rumi is amazing and stated things so well. Unfortunately I don't understand Persian, so I'm forced to trust the translators. Of course Rumi himself said about translation that Love will find its way across all languages on its own. So maybe it's okay.

Again I want to stress these are my own ramblings; consult a master for wise discourse on the subject, I am a simple darvish. I feel like doing this has merit, so I am. And once again, remember Rumi:
When I come to Love, I am ashamed of all that I have ever said about Love.

Arkaedi Day

We had a nice Arkaedi Day, and got a few nice pictures of Pretty (despite the yucky nose.)She loved her present from Gramma and Bibi, and her baby doll from Mama and Papa. They involve her favorite pastimes, saying "Baby" and putting things in other things.

Tomorrow the work begins again. I'm not happy to be diving into our busy schedule, but I think I'm finally ready. Yesterday I did dishes and trimmed my beard; that's usually the signal that I am ready to get things done.

I have a large list of goals for the new year, a large and daunting list. One of the items I plan to start tonight, and I may be posting it here if I get it done.

Here's to a great new year!

Old Man Status Confirmed

This funny and snarky list reminds me of my young-yet-strangely-old mindset again. I have actually said eight of the ten things on this list must go. This combined with my New Year's morning spent watching college football and drinking coffee confirms: I am no longer young.

Oh and falling asleep at eleven last night probably factors in somewhere.