Reading About “Adab”

According to an essay in Parabola, “Adab: The Sufi Art of Conscious Relationship”, by Kabir Helminski, adab is “the ability to sense what is appropriate to each moment and to give to each its due — a continuing process of refining one’s speech and actions. To have adab is to be cultured.” Below is a passage from the beginning of the essay:

It has been said that the highest attainment of Sufism is nothing but good character. What is meant, however, is not a rigid moralism but a natural, spontaneous beauty of character that is the result of a long maturing process of transformation. The ripened fruit of this kind of practice is not an abstract and impersonal ideal, but a person with whom you would like to sit down and have a cup of tea.

At mention of “tea,” synapses start firing in self’s brain, and before she knows it, self has drawn up a list of authors she would most like to have a cup of tea with, people whose conversation self thinks would be so inspiring that she could live off the ideas for the rest of her life.

So, without further ado, dear blog readers, here are the authors, living or dead, famous or infamous, that self would most like “to have a cup of tea with”:

Carlos Bulosan, because self wants to ask him how he was able to write all those books while laboring in the fields all day, and how he was able to get into The New Yorker without an agent.

Doreen Fernandez, because we could talk endlessly about food, and life.

Jeffrey Eugenides, because self could ask him what the deal is with Berlin, and see if he remembered Riika.

Paul Theroux, because he is one of the bravest writers self knows.

Linh Dinh, because self has been in his presence before, and it is never enough.

Marcel Proust, because self wants to know how he did it.

Elizabeth Samet, because self would like to copy the reading list of the literature courses she taught at West Point.

Franz Kafka, because self wants to know how he endured what he did.

Ian McEwan, because self thinks he is just brilliant.

Jean Vengua, and any of the writers from Going Home to a Landscape, because of course self loves their work.

Nathaniel Philbrick, because self want to know how he does it.

Zhang Dai, because to self he represents the holy.

Joyce Carol Oates, because self wants to know if she is really as dark/ moody in person as self expects her to be after reading her writing.

Liesl Schillinger, so self can tell her to her face how much she loves every review she has written, even the ones where she doesn’t like the book.

Ann Packer, so self can ask her what Nancy Packer was like as a mother.

Samrat Uphadyay, Joan London, and J. M. Coetzee, so self can tell them how much she adores their books.

Clarice Lispector, Rosario Ferré, and Rosario Castellanos, because self feels we are all sisters under the skin.

And, since self’s fingers are getting a wee bit tired, will stop here and wish all good-night.


  1. chancelucky said,

    November 16, 2007 at 7:56 am

    I always imagined Nancy Pakcer reading her children to sleep with stories by Isaac Babel. I suppose it might have happened that way since both her kids became writers.

    Interesting list and interesting concept the Sufis had/have.

  2. Melissa said,

    November 16, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Marianne, Love your blog! I just had to respond to this one. I’ll be visiting friends in Redwood City on Jan. 11-14; can we share a cup of tea then? Would love to see you and catch up. -Melissa

  3. November 16, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    Melissa!! You’re actually going to be in Redwood City? That wasn’t a typo? You really meant: REDWOOD CITY, not the “San Francisco Bay Area.” Who are these cool friends of yours who happen to live here? May I compliment them on their excellent taste in choice of abode???

    Give me a call when you’re here, Melissa!

  4. November 17, 2007 at 12:21 am


    Yes, it’s amazing that both Nancy’s kids ended up writers. I took two workshops from her when I was in the Creative Writing Program. At that time, she was the only woman teaching in the program, so I truly valued her input. Ann Packer’s an interesting novelist; I only read one of George’s books. Doesn’t he write for The New Yorker now? Yeah, I think he does 🙂

  5. Melissa said,

    November 17, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    Will do! Will e-mail you before I leave so I have your correct contact info. My cool friends live on Myrtle St (I will pass on the compliment), but I’ll actually be staying in SF because I suspect they’ll have a full house and I’ve got son in tow. Hope to see you then!

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