You Gotta Loosen What You Bolted Down

“Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougotta dance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you’restuck. Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. Weknowyou’re tired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, ok? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”

-Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

2010 was an insane year. We moved across the country, I started a new program. I got horribly sick. Definitely an odd year.

I’m looking forward to 2011. I’ll graduate. Hopefully find a teaching job. I have no idea where we’ll be in the fall, which is exhilarating to me. I’m funny that way.

I don’t put too much stock in New Year’s resolutions. But they do serve a purpose. It’s useful to think about where you are, where you were… You don’t want to be trapped in an idea of the past or a wish for the future. But evaluation of what you are can be good for you.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for 2011.

I’m going to read more poetry. Somehow that escaped my attention too often in 2010.

I’m going to eat a little better. I had major ups and downs in 2010, for various reasons. I’m getting too old to just eat what and when I want. I don’t want to go insane with a diet or anything. Just stay a little mindful.

I’m going to really be a great teacher. I know I won’t be perfect. But I’m going to do well.

I’m not going to accept any excuses for skipping meditation. None. It’s important. The most important thing I do.

I’ve going to have fun. All of this is fun. Don’t forget that. Like Rumi says. We rarely hear the inward music. But we’re dancing to it nonetheless.

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Crack the Frozen Sea

I love reading. I love books. I think that reading, like Kafka said, can be a way to “crack the frozen sea within us.” As an elementary educator, I read a lot of children’s books. There isn’t a medium quite like children’s literature. It’s visual, but not exclusively so. It isn’t really a genre; what genre includes Cinderella and Pokemon? It’s a way to show children what art can be. I absolutely love children’s literature, from simple picture books to young adult novels. They are amazing and underrated. I’ve decided, in my random and confusing jumble of things I write about, to include some examples of the medium. Unsurprisingly, I am a snob in this area of my life as well.

Cinderella is a classic folk tale. It’s been Disneyed and distorted, but the heart of the story is interesting. The version I like, Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant and Mary Blair, strips away a lot of the nonsense and gets at the simple story of a person who is looking for something special. Unlike the other versions, this Cinderella isn’t a passive person, but acts to help herself. She knows that Love is out there, if she is willing to find it. It’s sweet and simple and beautifully illustrated.

Idries Shah was known to me as a Sufi scholar. He has also written many children’s books, and the favorite of my kids is one called The Silly Chicken. It’s a morality tale, essentially pointing out that the ability to talk does not necessarily translate into meaningful conversation. It’s goofy and fun, and the kids are remarkably astute at discovering the moral. Even before the story ended, my son asked “Why are they listening to a chicken?” Another one of Shah’s books that I like is called Fatima the Spinner and the Tent. It’s more serious, essentially another story to explain a moral. Natasha Delmar does the amazing illustrations for this one.

Neil Gaiman has always been an interesting writer. He combines pop culture and myth in a clever way, but he has a deeper well than I realized. One of his children’s books, Instructions, is a recent discovery of mine. It is already one of my favorites. It’s typical of Gaiman in many ways, simple and meaningful… but there is a depth to it that isn’t in his other books for children or young adults. It frightened my kids. But in a good way.

I’m not an anti-TV person. I like TV. But I can’t deny that when the television is off for a day, and the kids just read and play games, everything at my house is better. There is never a day when we don’t read to our kids; I’ll skip dinner before I skip our nightly story time. But just as important is choosing great books, books that move you and inspire you to read. Finding those books encourages you to explore the world, and you in turn encourage your kids or students.

The Meaning of Christmas

It’s the season of Christmas cards, gift giving, and pointless arguments about wars on Christmas and replacing Christ with X. In other words, for someone like me who likes philosophy and family, it’s the greatest time of the year!

I had a conversation about the holiday with Taviri this week. It was a hard thing to explain, since the holiday is such a strange mix of secular and religious. Even without getting into the historical connections to Yule and Roman pagan celebrations, it’s a complex time of year. Taviri asked me what Christmas was, and I tried to answer. In the process of talking about it, I discovered some aspects of the holiday that I had always enjoyed without really knowing it.

C.S. Lewis, the writer and Christian apologist, was fond of the trilemma argument for Christ’s divinity. It goes like this: either Christ was insane, lying, or God. That’s it. Now, I don’t believe that Christ was a literal son of God, for various reasons, but this argument is interesting to me in what it leaves out. In reality I think it is a five-horned argument (pentalemma?). The historical person either didn’t exist, was a liar, was God, was insane, or was a teacher who used metaphor. I fall in the teacher camp, like many people. What interests me about that is not the how or why, though, but what it means.

For one, it lets me use this awesome sketch of a historical Jesus. But most importantly, it allows me to frame the story of Christ’s birth with that context and make a meaningful idea of Jesus for Taviri.

Think of the Christmas story. An angel comes to a poor woman, tells her that she is pregnant with a special child who will be a savior of his people. He will be a great leader. The parents are instructed to set aside their worldly concerns about parentage and just love the child. Wise men come from far away to see and bless the child. This is the story of birth, period. It’s a metaphor for welcoming a special person into the world every time a woman gives birth. It’s really a wonderful little tale of love for your family.

There is a children’s book called “Tonight You Are My Baby.” It’s a sweet story, about Mary speaking to Jesus as an infant. She tells him that he has all of this to do, and he belongs to the world, but at least tonight, he can just be her baby. Isn’t that the story of family? We have a few precious moments, our baby can just be there in our arms. They are not for us. They are for the world, for themselves. They go away from us almost as soon as they can, seeking their destiny. But for a night, a day, a year, they are just ours, wrapped up in our love.

All knowledge is local, as one of my favorite writers reminds me. I am not concerned with the religious dogma. The truth is the truth, and I understand it as best I can. I have no idea what the historical Jesus was like, who he was. I don’t think anyone does, despite the claims to the contrary. But I can see a baby, a mother, a father, unsure of the future, huddled together for one night. They tell the baby he is special, that they love him. That’s a pretty amazing story. I can celebrate that.

The Music and the Mixed Message

I have been thinking a lot, since my illness and hospital time, about what I want out of life. When I was seventeen, the only thing I wanted was to marry Jaime. The rest of my time I spent playing music, having fun… I really didn’t think of anything else. Work, school… these were just things I had to do to keep Jaime around. I enjoyed them. I tried to do them well because that was me, that was how I operated. But I didn’t really care. When something more interesting came along, I changed and went along with it.

Everything else I did was connected to my value system. I enjoyed being straight edge, eating vegan… I enjoyed these things because they expressed something about myself. I think my values were the clearest from that age to my early twenties. Not well developed or even true, but they were me, they made sense in the context of my existence. It’s telling that I haven’t really changed those values in all the years since then. Not even at age twenty-one.

Listening to that old music, I realize that I was really happy then. I think I was happy because I knew what I wanted, and I didn’t get caught up with nonsense. The rest of my life since then has been an effort to find that clarity of purpose. I still understand intellectually what I want. I want to be with Jaime, take care of my kids, practice my Sufi meditations. It’s amazing how clear it becomes again when you don’t know how much time you’ll have in this life.

So many people my age are gathering things. Buying houses, video games, giant tvs. All of those things are fine, of course, I don’t have a problem with things. Things are just things, they don’t matter. But gathering things isn’t me. I don’t like houses. I don’t like video games. I kind of like tv, but not enough to pay too much attention. I was happiest in a simple apartment, with bare floors, and piles of pillows to lay around on and listen to music.

In this way the kids are good for me. They ground me, make me pay attention to my career, my surroundings. I think I’ll always strive for some form of the bare floors and simple apartment. I’m not sure why. The kids keep me from going too extreme. I could see becoming a strange old straight edge hermit, listening to old 7″s and watching the white walls of my apartment mold.

Which is probably going to happen anyway. But at least this way I’ll be prepared.