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.


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.

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.

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!

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.

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…

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.