Monday, March 30, 2009

Sufi Poems: Seven

Today's poem is another by Rumi. I think I mentioned several times that I wanted to include other poets. I'm not really succeeding. But why succeed when failure means Rumi? I'm only looking at a few lines of the overall poem, since it is a big one to unpack. I'm not comfortable looking at the entire poem just now; but I want to highlight a few lines that strike me.

This poem is often titled "Sublime Generosity," and it's one of the poems that really showed me that Sufism is the path for me. Like most of Rumi's poems, it's about self awareness and letting go of ego. Rumi is encouraging the reader to look at the subtle aspects of reality for enlightenment. The beauty of the world is all around, but we get so caught up in our own minds that we don't see it. We live in our imagination, instead of letting our imagination be in service to our true selves.

He said, "You already have wings.
I cannot give you wings."

But I wanted his wings

This is one of my favorite lines of poetry ever written. I love the longing in the line, the desire for real knowledge. Sufis often say that profound longing is God's answer to our prayers, because the longing leads to submission to reality. This verse contains both the pain of longing and the joy of realization. The speaker already has the truth, but he desires the truth of the master. He understands intellectually that they are the same truth, of course. But the longing remains until he is truly enlightened. He could lie to himself, and pretend to be realized, like many do. He isn't, however, going to lie. He is going to seek. It's a lovely, simple way to put a powerful expression of spiritual growth. This is what Rumi does best.

"Don't move. A sublime generosity is
coming toward you."

And old love said, "Stay with me."

I said, "I will."

This section of the poem epitomizes the sweet and sincere nature of Rumi. He expresses his devotion in a statement of intent. For a darvish, the remembrance of God is constant. Rumi was always saying his zekr, or personal remembrance. I imagine the power of the phrase 'I will' as a comment on his zekr. Rumi is reminding us to live in the remembrance. The use of the words sublime generosity is intriguing as well. The Sublime is one of the ninety nine names of God in Sufism, and it is often referenced in Sufi poems. This has multiple reasons, but one is the reminder that the truth of the universe is beyond the ordinary intellect. Rumi dealt with narrow minded people and fundamentalists of his age, and I imagine he wanted to remind them, and perhaps his students, that devotion to the real means everything that is real, not what is simple or culturally acceptable to the rulers of the time.

Reading the poetry of Rumi never ceases to amaze me. The insights and beauty of his words, even translated into another language, is transcendent. It is not hard at all to see how he gathered disciples of all faiths during his lifetime. As frustrating as the pervasiveness of Rumi's work is on some levels, the fact that he is readily available in the West is a huge advantage for our generation. I hope more people devote themselves to a serious study of his work, and that he has the impact on more people he has had on me.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

All Star Superman: One

I really liked comics as a kid. I was a big collector, plastic bags and all. I pretty much stopped paying any attention once I discovered woman-love. Recently, however, I picked up a new Superman series called All Star Superman. It's really amazing.

I never liked Superman as a kid. He was always so one dimensional, I thought. I liked the darker characters, or at least the ones that I could imagine being on some level. The Batmans, the Wolverines of the comic world seem attainable. Superman was a god; he was perfect, he could do everything. In my comic world of the late 80s, there was too much self awareness for that. It was all about angst and suffering. It's exactly the reason teenagers are irritating and cannot be trusted. Hormones make them self absorbed and stupid.

Now, I get Superman. He was created by people who wanted a hero that could do everything. He slowly got more powers as the world got more dangerous and scary. Now, he can do everything, because that's what we need him to do. You can pretend to be Wolverine, or Spider-Man. But when everything is really falling apart, you want Superman. I understand that desire now.

All Star Superman doesn't deal with irony. There is no subtext. Superman is not all powerful, but he is the closest thing a person can imagine still operating within our world. The creators of this comic don't want teen angst, they want to explore the meaning of having a real savior wandering the streets of a city. What does it mean to have someone who really can shoulder the burdens of the world patrolling your skies? It's a fascinating idea, and the writers do a good job with it.

The characters are sketches, intentionally so. Lex Luthor is the envious human, fearful and totally ego driven. Lois Lane is the girl waiting for the white knight. Jimmy Olsen even gets told as the old school, "Superman's Pal" character that isn't seen much anymore. It's a blast to read. I've been sharing it with Viri, which is fun. He doesn't get much of it, even a simple modern Superman story has a lot that a three year old won't comprehend. He did have some fun comments, though, as usual. When anyone is in danger on the page, he reminds me. "Don't worry, Papa. Superman will help them. He'll take them to jail. He's nice."

I see the value in this for kids. I was really affected by these archetypes as a child, and my son is sensitive to the ideas in the same way. He knows Superman is pretend, but he wants the idea to exist. I'm glad he does. I want it to exist as well.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Obsession Countdown: Sweden

I've spent a lot of time lately reading about Sweden. I've always had a fascination with Sweden, and with the Scandinavian countries in general. Lately J and I have an elaborate fantasy about moving there and setting up shop. Figuratively, I suppose, though I wouldn't really object to a literal shop. Or whatever Swedish for shop is. Probably something that sounds vaguely like shop with a bunch of extra vowels crammed in.

Despite their disturbing lack of Willie Nelson, and their even more disturbing excess of ABBA, Sweden does seem like an amazing country. The countries in Europe that J and I have actual cultural ties to, Ireland and England and Germany, do not seem appealing. But something about Sweden really calls out to us. It's not the food, or the landscape. The landscape is lovely, but it isn't so different from up here in the Northwest. I think it's the cohesiveness of the culture.

At least from an outside perspective, Sweden seems like one country. There is a set of cultural norms, a government system, a language, and all of these things are related to the place in which they exist. One of the strengths of the US is the diversity. Growing up with that strength, we do take it for granted. But we also feel the lack of cohesiveness acutely. There is nothing about the States that makes it feel like a country. Not to be an armchair sociologist here, but I think that relates to the disconnect we feel between actions and ideas. We're an idealistic nation, but violent. We're religious, but not spiritual.

I don't think Sweden is a perfect country or anything. It might not even be a nice country, I don't know that much about it. The idea of Sweden, however, is compelling. The idea has always had a strong pull to me and J. I'm not sure what will become of it, if anything. But it's fun to read about and imagine.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

This actually looks pretty amazing. It makes me miss my mom, though, so I can't see it. Let me know how it is.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Running About With Viri

Today we tried a little outing. It was a nice day, and Viri has not been outside nearly as much as usual. He did pretty well. He was a little fussy, for him. We both missed having Arkaedi Sue around, I think. She makes the outings more fun. I figure the rest did her good though, because by the time we got back she was really happy to see us.

Viri and I have a big quarter next quarter, with some educational projects. I had actually planned on getting his letters done, but he already learned them somehow. Today he was telling me what they were. I never really taught him, but I guess he just picked them up as he went.

It's going to be odd dealing with someone as bright and sensitive as Viri. I always picked up things quickly, especially when it came to language and words. He's going to be better than me, I imagine. He already picks up words and ideas that I assume go over his head. We need to get him into some language programs, start developing that ability early. I always wish I had, since languages are the one ability I have that really stands above the others.

Well, first we'll get everyone healthy. Then we'll worry about tomorrow. I'm hoping this is a weekend of good health for the whole family. Here's to sleep and rest!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

After Taking Several Readings, I'm Surprised To Find My Mind Still Fairly Sound

When I lead off with a Willie Nelson quote, you know I'm in trouble. Although truthfully, I'm feeling okay. I just get overwhelmed when we're all sick for a week. Especially when I start it and Jaime ends it. The parents being sick makes for a crazy household. We walk a razor's edge at the best of time, and when illness strikes, it's like Lord of the Flies around here. With extra Piggies trucked in daily.

I'm getting back to my routine, and getting the alone time that I need to focus. I'm great for a ten hour day with the kids. I don't need a ton of down time, and I can typically have a great day with them from 7-5. Then, around five or six, I start shutting down. Even Viri has figured it out. "Mama time!" I've never been a great evening person, really. I'm good for hanging out and chatting, but not much real work. It's gotten worse, lately. Age, I suppose, or some strange reverse vampirism. Either way, I need to be behind my office door, locked in, before the sun sets.

I have my digital stack of records, and a little writing, and sleep. I'm gearing up for a great old man stage, starting at 32. This is why getting married young probably saved me. I would be deep into eccentricity without a family to ground me. Well, I am deep in eccentricity, let's be honest. Hopefully the family grounds me enough that it doesn't frighten more than amuse.

The season is starting to affect me. Even though very little has changed superficially, the feel of the air says spring. It doesn't feel any warmer, but the chill in the air doesn't have the same bite as it did a week ago. Our illnesses are behind us, hopefully, and we're ready for a nice spring. I have a lot to do this quarter, mainly preparing Viri for school. He is already an expert at his letters and numbers. Now I need to work on his social skills. Mainly, using the potty when he needs to and not calling people 'hippy' at the drop of a hat. Getting him to read and write will be easy; the hard part is getting him to live in the real world. His Papa has only the loosest grasp on the concept, I don't expect he'll have a much easier time of it.

Now, a good night's sleep and an early start on the day tomorrow. Viri and I are going out for morning muffins, then off to some parks. He's finally feeling well enough to complain about being inside all week, which is a good sign for a boy. I think this week has been the most time inside he's ever had. Most days we spend about half our day at the park, or taking walks. Starting tomorrow, we're back to that wonderful pattern.

Speculative Painting

There is nothing that can stop these evil snowmen invaders!

Except... heat, of course. They really didn't think this through.

The whole family is still out of commission. I hope to get everyone on their feet and myself back to a routine soon. I'm getting a little lost without my routine.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Great Virus Fight

I'm feeling better. The kids are feeling a bit better. I think J is just getting sick. But hopefully, we're through the worst of this round of illness. During this past quarter, I got sick twice. And both times, they were probably the worst illnesses I have ever had. It was bizarre. I'm used to being sick, working with kids; it's a rare day someone doesn't shove a hand in my mouth. (Not very many G-rated jobs where that is a problem.)

This year is particularly bad, since parents recently think nothing of bringing an extremely ill child to a room filled with other people. If my kids are sick, they stay home. One of us figures out a way to make it work, for the day or two until they get better. But this and other parenting differences are what has driven me away from this job, so I don't feel inclined to have a big discussion about it with the parents.

J and I are feeling the approach of spring. We're reaching another build-up in our quarterly, "Where do we go from here?" discussion. J is thinking of jobs and residencies, and I'm thinking of locations. We can never decide anything, of course, but it's important that the cycle continues. It's like cherry blossoms in April; if the Barker's haven't begun The Talk, the world isn't turning.

I don't care what I do, as usual. I have the portable, low pay kind of career that I can do anywhere. (When people find out I'm a native English speaker without a criminal record who wants to take care of toddlers, they jump in line. There are precious few of us left.) I just want the place to excite me. It can be beautiful, or have big city amenities, or a nice feel, or some or all of the above. I'm not concerned. I just need that spark. I only think in emotional terms. This frequently leads to the discussions ending with J and I's favorite Simpsons exchange.

Marge: You don't need to join a traveling freak show just because the opportunity arose!
Homer: You know, in some ways you and I are very different people.

One way or another, the next six months are going to sort it all out. I may be irrational to a fault, but I do have bills to pay and kids to feed. Viri has dragons to fight, Arkaedi Sue has songs to sing. My responsibilities are there, and I'll get them done. There was a day when the end of a job or a school meant something random. Now it means something that can get our bills paid while we still have a rewarding project to work on.

Unless I could talk J into moving to Europe...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Poor Sick Family

Taviri and I are ill. That's the reason for my absence. I'll get back in the game in a few days. I know how you all miss the kid anecdotes and movie recaps when you must do without!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Drop-Off Mentality: My Plea For Parent Licenses

A good friend of mine sent pictures of his newborn today. I was really excited, as I always am about kids. I am definitely a kid person. I understand that not everyone is, and that's fine. Some of my closest friends are not kid people, and they know that. They live their lives without having children, or even interacting with them that much. This shows self-awareness, of which I am most definitely in favor. My problem is when people are not aware of what it means to have children, then have them anyway.

I'm slowly leaving my job because of these people. There has been an influx of parents not interested in the attachment parenting model that many of the parents were interested in when the organization started. This is one of the big mistakes that I made getting involved with the job. I should have looked for a coherent philosophy. It had previously run on trust, faith that we agreed on general principles of childcare and parenting philosophy. We didn't all necessarily follow a rule book. (I do time outs, for instance: I still consider myself an attachment parenting proponent.) I am not concerned with parents all having the same philosophy; but understanding the way the daycare works would be a plus. Instead I am forced to compromise my beliefs in order to appease parents, which I cannot do.

I am concerned that I work with kids that I think are poorly treated. Some of the parents I work with are amazing, and do everything they can to raise a healthy child. We may disagree, but it will be respectful, and I understand that they are doing what is right for them and their family. A few, however, are drop-off parents. They think they can outsource the raising of their children to providers like me, or family. I don't mean they work, and need daycare. I depend on the need for daycare in order to pay my bills, and I support it. I mean they use it as a substitute for being involved, and want the child out of their way so they can get the real work of being themselves done.

I don't pretend like I do everything right. I certainly don't imagine that I know how to be a parent and others don't. I learn a lot from my friends with kids, and I frequently go to them for guidance. But I will be present for my kids. They will be clean and well-fed, with nutritious foods. They know that either me or Jaime will be there when they have a problem or an issue that needs resolved. It's what I signed up for by having children.

I'm sensitive when it comes to kids. Seeing kids treated poorly, even a little poorly, stabs right into me. I would do absolutely anything for the kids in my care, and it is painful to see that not all of the parents would.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don't Panic: 2009

If you're like me, and you listen to a lot of radio commentary on the economic crisis and the wars, etc, then you get pretty depressed after a bit. I mean, we all knew this crazy capitalist bubble economy was going down, but to see it happening, especially when you have a family to support, is a little intense. Going to the government website about the problem doesn't help, either. Although, spiffy logo there guys!

What does help me is this photo. Whatever happens, Mr. President, thank you for making us laugh about global economic collapse. This almost makes up for the millions of racist and stupid photoshopped non-jokes out there, America. You were this close to getting disbanded by the other, good countries, then you go and do something awesome like this. I can't stay mad at you. USA! USA! USA!

Cinematic Titanic: Return of the Titans

Last night, the mighty Hercules and I got to see another performance of Cinematic Titanic. The movie was the awful and odd Dynamite Brothers, a 1974 blaxploitation kung fu type film. It was perfect and odd, and though I was a little bummed to be without J, Herc and I had a great time. I kept squeezing his thigh, just to keep in the spirit of the date theme from Friday. The experience was as awesome as Friday, I'm really glad I went to both nights. Tonight had a more engaged audience, and the CT crew responded well. There were a bunch of MST3K callbacks, a great spit take... A perfect night of theater, in other words.

Earlier in the day, the kids and J and I went to Pizza Pi to celebrate Pi Approximation Day. They have redone the whole place, and the menu is amazing. Any place that includes cinnamon rolls with vegan stuffed crust pizza is getting my money. All told, it was a terribly expensive weekend. But we rarely celebrate math or bad movies, so I consider it well worth it. Although I get the feeling that Jaime will use this as an argument against any money being spent ever again. I'll be trying to get an Ensure at 85 and J will protest, "You spent a hundred bucks on pizza and CInematic Titanic!" I'll counter, of course, "That was over fifty years ago! Super intelligent cyborgs didn't even rule us then, that was a different world!" But it won't work. I haven't won an argument in 17 years, I don't imagine the next fifty will be any different.

We had a really great weekend, and it really made me appreciate my situation. I love the city, with these kinds of events. I love my group of friends, who sent volumes of emails trying to find sitters for us. And of course having Herc and Sarah around to participate in the festivities makes it all the more fun. I'm really getting spoiled, with theater and vegan restaurants and the like. I also heard that the Pizza Pi people took over another vegan cafe, Wayward. Which means I will beg J for more money to have another restaurant trip over spring break! I'm not too confident of my success, but never give up!

(Until the cyborg overlords come. Then, we give up. They're mean!)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cinematic Titanic: Seattle!

Jaime and I had a momentous night tonight: our first actual date in a long while. And it was a double date, high school style! Herc and Sarah came along for an evening with the Cinematic Titanic crew. It was an amazing time, a wonderful, riffable movie, Blood of the Vampire, and a great night out. I didn't take any photos, but Jaime looked absolutely stunning. Black dresses cannot be worn better than she wears them. We got to sit arm in arm, not worry about anything for a few hours, and laugh at a bad movie. Great times.

We had met the Cinematic Titanic cast the night before at a signing. They were great, real sports about the whole thing. For those who need the introduction, the crew of Cinematic Titanic are made up of a lot of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 writers and performers. They do the same thing, basically, which is make fun of, or "riff" to the bad movies. They have DVDs, but the real heart of it is the live show. I was overwhelmed by how great the atmosphere was, and how much fun it was to play along. Getting the feedback, and the improv, was a really fun element.

We're going tomorrow night, but unfortunately J can't go. We don't want to leave the kids for two nights. It won't be as good without her leaning on my arm. But then again, what is? I'm still really excited to go again. Even with my high expectations after tonight, I imagine we'll have a blast.

Herc has a fun little write up of the signing yesterday. I'll post a more detailed blog tomorrow. When I'm not distracted by a date with my wife and the joy at being near her, I'll have more energy and words for the actual event.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Camellia Thirtysomething

The final Kurosawa movie at the Grand Illusion was a sequel to Yojimbo, Tsubaki Sanjuro. The title translates as "Camellia Thirty Year Old," roughly. As in Yojimbo, the man with no name simply states what is in front of him when asked his name. This is a really great movie, one of the few Kurosawa that I had never seen. I wasn't terribly excited about it, since I knew it was quickly put together as a sequel from a different script. I was way off; in many ways it is superior to Yojimbo, and the source material, a novel called Peaceful Days, probably helped with that. The iconic man with no name does better within the context of a broader world. He seems both more out of place and more admirable.

The basic story involves nine samurai who are attempting to ferret out corruption in their clan. They are repeatedly mistaken in their assumptions and reckless with their planning, and Mifune's character, the man with no name, guides and assists them. The overall plot is spare, with the heart of the story focused on the samurai, and the evil samurai's mercenary, called Hanbei.

There are some elements of the character that are explained in this film. A character comments that he takes money, which is dishonorable. He listens to the input of two women, which would be rare for the time and place. I like these elements, and they don't seem to be pandering. Mostly this is due to Mifune, who plays the character with the right combination of humor and intensity. He really must have been an amazing actor to be around.

The man with no name is an amazing character, in part because he is a person of modern sensibilities placed in the medieval past of Japan. The Japanese dialogue makes this clear. The subtitles don't work as well on this film, because there is less of an effective way to switch from a formal English to a modern dialect. We don't have the layers of formality, so we can't see the difference between Mifune's modern slang and the other samurais' formal feudal speech. The most obvious problem with the translation, though, is in the comedy. There are a few ancillary characters that play into the story, and how they speak is as important as any role they have in the plot. Two women and a captured enemy are all involved with the main characters' work to free the honest old samurai, imprisoned by the evil samurai. The older woman speaks in a polite, modern tone, making her judgments sound maternal and out of place. She seems sweet and clueless, and so does her daughter. At one point the captured enemy returns to the closet where he is ostensibly captive with an "excuse me." It's a nice comic moment, especially since he uses the version of the expression that has a light meaning, as though he had interrupted their schedule.

I'm sad to see an end to the Kurosawa festival. I would have liked some of his later works on the big screen, like Ran or Dreams. Watching Sanjuro, I understand why the period pieces get all of the attention. They are exceptionally well done, and they capture a world that is alien to Americans, and even to modern Japanese people. It's fascinating to see the court intrigue played out in a society where speech and honor mean something different than they do now. The final scene, where Hanbei is killed by the man with no name, is all the more sad for this reason. As in Yojimbo, the world is falling to pieces when two men like this are forced to kill one another. At one point earlier, the character even screams at the nine young plotters that they have forced him to kill. It has a relevance to the scene, but also to the state of affairs. Samurai like him are forced to become something evil in this world.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Seattle Tip of the Week Two: Professional Loading

We came across a few people begging for money in the U District today. In these tough economic times, people are less likely than ever to toss a handful of change at filthy people. If you're begging from Seattleites, here are a few hints.

1. Please phrase your request in the form of a question. "Food, please?" for instance, works better than "Food!" A guy yelled "food" at us as we passed him today. People in Seattle are cautious, and we don't make eye contact easily. Randomly shouting out nouns will never work.

2. When stealing, think reasonable. We were offered a box of obviously stolen Godiva chocolates for a mere five bucks. Now, I don't know that much about black markets, but typically they involve stereos and valuable stuff sold from shady alleys, right? Three people in line for a Kurosawa film are probably not in need of black market chocolates. Even pirated DVDs would have made some sense...

3. Try an area of the city with money. This part of town is for college kids and people wandering among college kids to see movies. If we had a ton of spare cash, would we be within a country mile of a college student? The tight pants alone would have us hiding in shame, as well they should. Actually if I had a ton of money I would have hired a dozen toughs to chase away all the college kids on the block, punching each tight-panted man child in the junk as they shooed them away. I wouldn't waste it on stolen chocolate or noun-shouters.

So, best of luck, pan handlers! I hope Microsoft starts hiring again soon so you get off the streets and back at the keyboard.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

To Run Or To Run: Freedom Psychology

My fantasies are centered around moving. This probably has a lot to do with my personality. I'm generally a restrained person: I don't drink or fight or gamble. I've never been enamored with any of those things. But the lure of travel, of change, is deeply ingrained in me. Ironically, I think I owe most of it to Jaime. At least, she's the one who guided my expression of freedom towards travel. In the long run, I can see that it is one of many things J has done to make our relationship work. She isn't aware of it, I'm sure. But the other vices I could have found to express myself would surely have made tons of trouble for us as a couple.

Then again, it is J. Maybe she is aware of it. I was staring at one of my favorite sights today, a map of a huge trip across the country. I was listening to a song, "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me," which includes the awesome line "moving's the closest thing to being free." Waylon Jennings didn't write them, but boy, could he find some amazing lines. ("Don't mind me just keep on talking, I'm just looking for my hat" is one I pray I'll use someday.)
View Larger Map

It's a strange conundrum now. I'm happier than I've ever been. My kids are at a great age, I'm enjoying my life, I don't have that much work drive me nuts, but enough to keep me busy. I really try not to live in either the past or the future, though I'm not as successful as I wish to be. I do have one tendril of thought in a trip for the future. I'm hoping that naming it will exorcise it, in part. Though I know that a huge two or three month trip is the only way to really give me solace for a few years. Knowing that the opportunity is at least a few years away both helps and hurts. It gives me time to think.

Who Watches The Watchmen?

He-Man style!

Friday, March 6, 2009

It's About Love And Tea Parties

I often say that Viri has the greatest quotes in the universe. I work with a lot of children, and all of them are awesome. I really love the kids in my care, so much so that it makes it difficult to deal with how the parents handle certain issues. I feel a responsibility to the children, because some small part of their lives intertwine with mine. They all have their unique perspectives, and fun takes on the world. But at the end of the day, I love that my son is such a Jaime junior, and that he lives in my world. There is Godzilla and baseball, trucks and motorcycles, and that is just great.

When another kid does come out with a great quote, I'm taken aback. Today one of the kids was comforting another when a game of "sing and dance" made her upset for some reason. She gave the best little speech: "Performance is about friends. We share our microphones. It's about sharing and love. It's about having fun and tea parties."

I was shocked. You're... right, kid. It is about love and sharing and tea parties! I can't believe we all forgot that! It was such a great little speech, and so Viri-esque. I told him about it when we got home, because I thought he'd appreciate the sentiment. "Yeah, that's right. Good," he said. It got the Viri stamp of approval, which is the standard for classic kid speeches. I want to set up a presidential phone call style thing for him, where he calls and congratulates people for these statements. "Yeah, that's right. Good. Bye!"

Today was a long day without him and his sense of humor. I tried. I told one girl that I didn't have soymilk, but milk from our goat in the sandbox. She didn't believe me. "There's no goat!" she said. "Oh no, our goat escaped!" It didn't work at all. They just ignored me and went back to playing sewing. When kids are playing "sew" rather than joke with you, you are officially boring.

At least I was reminded of the true purpose of life. The greatest thing about working with kids is the ability to provide a context. They aren't bogged down by the worries we have, and it's liberating. The next time I get down about money or work, I'm going to remind myself it's about having fun and tea parties. And we share the microphone in this world, mister!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sufi Poems: Six

No greater wings are there
than Love.
And all of my beauty comes
from a mirror you always
hold before me.

Hafez differs from Rumi in many ways, but for me the biggest contrast comes from his approach to the subject of the Divine. Rumi speaks in parables, stories to inform. Hafez goes straight for the heart, and tries to stir the heart to act. Our master speaks a lot of chivalry, and for our order the darvish acts without thought of himself, always for others. Both Rumi and Hafez encourage this, of course, but Hafez speaks only to this. He is the darvish's darvish.

This verse is one of my favorites for exactly this reason. He is giving us the same criticism of ego that we hear in other poems, but phrased in such a personal and heart-wrenching way. He is reminding us of our own impermanence, and the need to seek the truth. There is beauty in the world, but don't lose sight of the real meaning of this meditation and remembrance.

Appropriately, this post is my 99th of this blog. In Sufi tradition, there are ninety-nine special names of God. The one hundredth name is unknowable, save for union with the divine. The one hundredth name is often given as a kind of koan, a meditation on the limitations of the intellect. A darvish attempting to become a Sufi is given a name or names as a remembrance, to meditate upon constantly. This is called a zekr, pronounced "zek." I started writing these posts, especially the Sufi ones, to try and get out some of my intellectual wanderings in order to focus on my zekr. I don't know if that was a good idea. It does seem to help, but Lord knows if I'm fooling myself. (A darvish reminded me of the master's comment when anyone started some new project or obsession: "This means they're crazy!")

But, all of that be as it may, I enjoy it. I like writing about my Sufi meditation, my kids, my little hobbies. So, I'm going to keep doing it. Lord willing and the creek don't rise, as a good WV darvish would say.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Bodyguard: Good, Whitney-less Version

Continuing our Kurosawa month, we watched Yojimbo at the Grand Illusion last night. Usually not translated, the title means a kind of bodyguard. The main character, the man with no name, is a masterless samurai, just wandering the countryside, pretending at points to be a bodyguard for hire. He really isn't all that into protecting anyone. It's definitely a classic, and a really enjoyable film. As I mentioned with Hidden Fortress, I tend to forget how well these work on the big screen. The atmosphere was good, aside from the annoying little performance piece in the place of a movie introduction. But, on the plus side, thanks for reminding me why I hate college kids' art!

Yojimbo is really familiar, since it was remade into the western A Fistful of Dollars. Both are great movies, and I enjoy each one a lot. Yojimbo is Kurosawa at his jidaigeki, or period drama, best. It's Kurosawa taking timeless themes like how power corrupts and the world isn't what it used to be and placing it in a place and time that is essential Japan. One great piece of this is the appearance of a pistol in the middle of the film. The man with no name just shakes his head. This is what happens, the scene says, the world is going to hell.

I had forgotten how dark the film is. The man with no name has lost almost all hope. Even when he gives in and chooses to help a pathetic couple, you get the sense it is from his past values more than his present. He's willing to live with the dishonor of his life, taking money for killing. But he remembers having honor. This is something Kurosawa loved to play with in his films, the sense of a changing world, of fitting values into a modern society.

In the film, the characters clap when exchanging money. The clapping is to drive away the bad spirits, to make the money in some way an offering. In traditional Japan, like in many cultures, money is a pretty dirty thing. Merchants were below farmers in a social system based on Confucius, and the rich were banned from true high society. The rulers levied harsh taxes to maintain the kingdom, but mostly they got power through conquest and marriage. Samurai never worked for pay; in fact when the Meiji reformers started mocking samurai, one of the things they'd say is that now they work for pay, or sell their swords to pay their debts. Mifune's character is a hired assassin, as far from a samurai as can be. But he isn't so far gone that he doesn't remember being a person of honor, who served his lord.

The translation was pretty good, though I did have a few of the usual quibbles. They translate "Suman" repeatedly as "Thank you." It's really more of an "excuse me" kind of phrase. In the movie it stood out as sounding both modern and a little humorous. Saying "Suman" when asking for a gun is either ironic or silly. You can say a sincere thank you, that has some weight. Another translation was "naruhodo" as "I see." I have actually argued about this even with Japanese people. Translation is a strange science, and it's hard to do unless you're really culturally and linguistically versed in both nations. There are almost no people for whom this is the case. That being said, I think the expression has an element of agreement that doesn't translate into the English "I see." The English sounds detached, unaffected by the outcome. The Japanese is often used in this way, but there is a tension to it that I don't hear in "I see." I would vote for "okay," because there is that element of tentative agreement in "okay" that gets that same tension across.

So, another great one from Kurosawa, another reason to get to the theater. I am really becoming enamored of the big screen these days. If I could get rid of all the college arty types, I would never leave.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Taste Of Spring

"I like my sun friend," Viri said. He was into the nice weather today. It was nice, too. The temperature climbed into the 50s, the sun was out, mostly. We went off to Woodland Park for a good time in the revamped playground.

They keep changing these play areas. Now, they've gotten rid of all the sand, and replaced it with cedar chips. I'm not sure why. Some kids eat sand, maybe? Animals use it for toilets? Those animals, they ruin everything. My kids don't mind, either way. Arkaedi Sue can toddle through anything. Actually, she is getting to be tough to handle at the park; she climbs like a spider monkey. I had to grab her today when she climbed a ladder, and by the time I got to her she was at eye level. Viri was always a little more cautious. She doesn't care. She'll scale a giant structure then sing a song about it.

That song'll be BA BA BA, and it'll be screamed.

We had a nice day today. Everyone was in a good mood, because of the weather and the gradual recovery from our illness. Nobody feels a hundred percent, but we're all doing okay, which is better than the past week. Viri was running and jumping and swinging like his normal self.

Arkaedi is difficult to handle at the daycare, now, too. She's started this game where she slaps me, then kisses me. Now, I'm not a total stranger to this from women, as anyone who knew me in college can attest. In fact, I frequently didn't get to the kiss, and just made do with the slap. But coming from Pretty, it's a bit disconcerting. She finds it hilarious, though, so it's hard for me to argue. I've already learned that there is nothing I can deny this girl. I'm going to be in trouble. Viri is my son, and the eldest; I can shoulder him with burdens and expectations. But my little girl? The baby and the only daughter? We're both just lucky she has J. Today she had a little baby huddle to discuss her options. She decided they were best served by smacking me and then kissing me, then asking for food.

Her signs now include 'more' and 'finished,' though she rarely uses finished. She can pack away the food. She is truly my daughter. Today she ate a ton of food then sang along to my new bluegrass/country mix. She is into exactly the music I like. (Viri: "Can we listen to Ali Ali [Pakistani Sufi music] please, Papa?" You're... different, son.)

On an unrelated note, today is the square root of the year! 3/3/9! I absolutely love stuff like that.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Observational Humor!

This is pretty well done, I have to say. I found it funny.

It'll be something to cycle back to during the summer when you can't stand another baseball related post.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sufi Poems: Five

"You've done well," she said, "but listen to me.
All this is the decor of love, the branches
and leaves and blossoms. You must live
at the root to be a true lover."
"Where is that!"
Tell me!"
"You've done the outward acts,
but you haven't died. You must die."

I haven't done a post about Sufi poetry in a while, and I was inspired to write this earlier in the week when I came across some anti-Islam, and in general anti-religion stuff online. I typically avoid reading this, since it is usually bored jerks trying to start a fight. Oh, bad things have been done in the name of religion, wow, you don't say? As if that has never been pointed out. As if evil people wouldn't use any excuse or label necessary to create conflict. The Nazis called themselves socialist, because it sounded nice. Then they executed everyone to the left of Mussolini. The argument from history doesn't hold much weight with me; people do what they do, for their own reasons. Religion has been a useful tool for manipulation for the past few thousand years, of course it's been used. We're seeing now how science is being used for questionable purposes, too. People trapped in their own heads seeking power will grab what they can. What faith they profess is irrelevant, whether Christian, Atheist, or Buddhist.

I was happy about one aspect of that post, however. It did remind me of an important point that is often neglected in these discussions. The superficial trappings of a religion are dangerous, if they are taken literally. The essence of a spiritual path is not in the boundaries which define it for the followers, but the deeper spiritual truth. Most true spiritual paths require a master for exactly this reason. Without a master to guide you, you'll fall back onto dogma or rules, the most basic aspect of a path. The rules exist for reasons, which a master will gladly explain to neophyte disciples. The rules are guides, meant to be elucidated by a master of the path. If you don't have the benefit of a master, you get caught up in your own ego, and the path isn't clear.

This Rumi verse, like many of Rumi's, talks about ridding yourself of ego. He is warning us against the trappings of love, the outward appearance of faith. Living by the trappings of faith is okay, you'll fit into your society fine, but you won't be a true Lover. As usual in Rumi, there is a prescience to this poem. In an age where the superficial information about anything is available to anyone at the click of a button, people believe they can shape the world with their own ego. What they desire to be true is true, and the enlightened people are bypassed. The information is valuable, if your quest for knowledge leads you to a master, but the trappings themselves do not make up the spiritual path. As fundamentalists across the world are teaching us, the branches and blossoms die without the roots to nourish them.

The only way to be free of the issues which divide us, Rumi says, is to let go of your ego. Die before you die, and the remaining is the pure, unpolluted you of the Divine. It's hard to delve into any path and not find this basic message of egolessness and surrender. It's not a coincidence that the other paths even come back to the same terms, in society after society. Truth will out, as Shakespeare said.