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Thursday
Sep042008

Halcyon Days & Suburban Hero's Journey

I don't refer to myself as a "born again" Christian because that term has been appropriated by a sector of Christianity that I don't very much agree with. The basis for the term is based on the Gospel of John in chapter 3 when Jesus says that a person must be reborn in order to experience and enjoy God's realm. Conservative interpretation refers to this rebirth as being "born again" (NIV), but others (NRSV and the Scholar's Version, both of which I favor) says one must be "born from above" in the sense of a spiritual rebirth. Hence, the confusion within the text which has Jesus and Nicodemus talking past each other, as one talks of spiritual rebirth and the other tries to figure out how a man can be born again physically. Indeed it does seem preposterous that one could be physically reborn, but it makes lots of sense how a person can be spiritually reborn, to discover new avenues to God and the mysteries of life. Better still, it makes better sense to see that sort of experience not as a one-shot deal. Indeed, I have come to believe the great thing about Christianity is that one can continually die to the self and be reborn again and again. I think this makes far better sense, as it is a method or an evolution, not an event.

There is not one time when I ever "knew" that such a transformation was clearly upon me. For years, I wanted nothing to do with religion, though it intrigued me, more in an anthropological way than anything. I didn't set foot in a church for ten years except on Christmas Eve and a few other times (my grandmother's memorial, etc.). My stepmom had long since turned to a brand of literalist-evangelicalism which was practiced in earnest, but was too small for me, and never really spoke to things I was experiencing. Still, it did remind me of the Christian promise that God loves every one of us, and that that love is there when you decide to accept and fall into it. Many years during that dark decade had conversations that inevitably meandered toward that type of talk, and of course, I wouldn't have it when I knew that my problems were too big for all that. It was a dark decade indeed, but she kept the candle in the window for me, so to speak. What prompted me to rejoin church life after that time was a great need to wrap the agonizing events of the period which preceded my return in some sort of context wider than the one I knew. Life got way bigger than I was able to handle. Back in 1999-2001 in particular, I was often plagued with suicidal thoughts which themselves were the low points in a great malaise that had gone on for years. And then there was 9/11, an event which seems to have marked any human being who has encountered it.

I got a respite from that malaise in 2002, in part because that is the first year when Kelli and I were together, but moreso because I basically went into overload and protective shutdown in the second half of 2001, and used consumerism as a drug to wish away the deaths of grandmothers, the agony of charges of never-before-discussed molestation in the family, the newfound wonders and pitfalls of computer use, the musical stagnation, unemployment, and new living situation with roommates thrust upon me by my old man who improperly inherited the house I was in—all of which defined that period. Much of 2002 was conducted in that numbed state. I spent 12-18 hours a day on the computer making havoc if left to my devices. I all but abandoned recording in a turn of events that would have been unthinkable a couple years earlier. I did manage to make some music, but most of that was agonizing too because of the personalities involved in group effort, or because of my ambivalence about the enormous sums of money I spent on tools that would never make better music than I would make if I actually had it in me. One huge irony wouldn’t let me sleep: I originally got swept up in all my computer interests in order to support my musical pursuits, not to bury them!

photo illustration of female biological symbol functioning as cross with crucified jesus-as-ed. the circle part of the symbol holds an upside down earth. the rest of the imagery is psychedelic in its coloringEd's World, 2003The year of 2003 was all that and more stress too. By the mid summer, I had closed my studio up in an attempt to determine if I was really done with music. I had come to loathe all I once loved in music and the gear used to play and record it. The situation with the house got very much worse as my old man did his illegal and tasteless work while treating me like a 12 year old meddling in his affairs. I had destructive roommates and little control over my living space because the "landlord" himself was destructive to that same space, albeit in a greater way. That summer, I once had some really harsh stuff said to me by an ex-girlfriend, a sister, and even my stepmom, with the collective force of it all crushing me while so many other things had already brought me down. During the hot and humid summer of 2003, I got over my years-long avoidance of movies and went straight for the movies that I thought would rattle me some—a couple on nuclear war, The Deer Hunter, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and some others that were just intense.

One film that began a recognizable shift in me was The Last Temptation of Christ. In 1989, I once was offered a chance to see it with my youth group but my family refused to sign the consent form in some misguided attempt to shelter me. (My family was pretty conservative, while the church was at that time quite liberal, something which gave my grandmother grief.) Anyhow, I finally got from LTOC a sense of a Jesus to whom I could relate. I remember feeling like I had lost a great deal by not having seen that movie years before. LTOC was one part of my method to jackhammer my way out of the shell where I found myself that summer of my 29th year. Even while it takes liberties with the story of Jesus, I found in it the Jesus who finally made sense to me—a human filled with uncertainty and longing to offload his accumulated burden of fears, sins and failings, wishing God would just not love him so much if it was going to hurt like this. Most of what I had heard about Jesus either did not make sense or was hokey, but I understood this Jesus. He was even my age!

I suppose the nearly 2000 years between he and I have changed the outward appearance of the path toward God but the mythical journey remains intact. Yeah, I didn't go to the desert to face my demons. But on this day in 2003, I took a big first step into my own spiritual wilderness. After work, I stopped off at Sav-On to get some sleeping pills so I could take a long nap. I wasn't into guns or knives or anything. That, I thought would be a little too crude, and knowing what a failure I was, I didn’t want to mess that up and have to deal with it later! A couple years before, I was entertaining stopping a car along Morena Boulevard, as I took a four mile walk from near Sea World to my house. But on this particular day, I was just going for a nap. Since I hadn't done any of this before, I got the biggest bottle of sleeping pills I could find, hoping it would do if I put the whole thing down in short order. I had the contents arrayed on my desk and was in a shattered state as I contemplated my next move. Kelli was bound to come by after work—in several hours, since this was maybe about 2 or 3 pm. She knew something was up with me. All the summer long, she was my confidante and more than a few times I was a total wreck before her. The hours between the end of my work shift and hers were achingly long. I had the words of my pastor in mind that day, words that intervened in this kind of thinking back in late 1992 when I was 18 and was having my first fanciful thoughts of what it might be like if I were to check out of this life.

I guess I chickened out. I called Jerry and sought his help to drive me to the hospital initially. He came over right away just like always said he would if any of us were ever in this place in our lives. I went to the ER not because I had actually done something, but because I was in need of intervention. Maybe the hospital was overkill but it seemed right as a first step. I guess they can't do much for a guy who has existentially rooted clinical depression—where do they put the band-aid? So they passed me off to a county mental health system crisis center called Isis House, and later to a slightly more convenient house in the same system called Halcyon. My pastor stayed with me at the hospital for the three hours till they decided what should be done with me. Kelli arrived too. But I was sent solo to Isis, riding in a chartered taxi which was only allowed to let me off at Isis in Imperial Beach. On the ride there, in a move quite uncharacteristic of my usual self, I remember muttering the Lord's Prayer over and over. I guess nothing else would have done better. Nothing else came to mind. I don't know what it achieved, but I guess it indicated that I really had to start turning to something outside myself. As much as ever, I had to admit I was at the bottom of things.

The first evening at Isis was long with paperwork and entrance interviews. They gave me an upstairs room to myself that night. I slept like I hadn't in a long time due to the Trazidone they gave me which made me sleep like a baby all the way through the night. I awoke to the beautiful sun beaming into my east-facing room. It was all very surreal there and I guess on reflection that was the beginning of being born again into a new world. I had an endless loop of Radiohead's song Kid A playing in my head. It always sounded like a trip through the loony bin, and I sort of had to admit that I was there myself. The people were mostly younger than me, with various diagnoses of mental illness. I didn't feel that I was mentally ill; I felt like the world sucked and my life was chaotic and hopeless. I never heard voices or any of that. I just wanted out of a fucked up world. Fix the world, I thought, not me. (I still feel that way but now I act a bit differently.) The time at Isis was short, lasting just over a day. Kelli negotiated a transfer to Halcyon in El Cajon which was slightly more reasonable and close for her, since she was the only person who came daily for the 11 days I was gone. The day I spent at Isis was bright and sunny and had a splendid breeze from the ocean, but the whole experience was surreal as I talked to people who were far more messed up than me. There were two meetings with therapists and a group encounter type thing. In an effort to evoke a bit of normality—and echoing a splendid picnic meal we had a few weeks before—Kelli came and brought me a tasty turkey, bacon, and avocado sandwich from Henry's, and to this day, that gesture still stands as one of the great things she did to care for me. (The food at these houses was white trash picnic food, I swear.) It also got her brownie points toward getting married!

I moved over to Halcyon on the Saturday morning after this all started. I liked Halcyon much better. My fellow campers seemed a lot more normal, but I also rather hit a stride with one of the resident therapists named Billy B, who was probably younger than me but a genius about how to pull out some magnificently inspiring quote from religion, science, philosophy, and whatever else was applicable. He was also a guitarist. I think he heard me best while there. Halcyon and Isis were short term crisis houses, and the idea was to get people back into the game, ready to get back to family and work or school. A certain share of time was dedicated to one-on-one therapist visits, community therapy discussions and exercises (even a drum circle which I met with ambivalence due to having recently sworn off music), planning for how to return to life, and a rotating kitchen and cooking duty which functioned as a team exercise and demanded resourcefulness. The rest of the time was mostly time to mingle and reflect or have visitors. It was rather regimented. We had to make our beds and clean up. It was for me a direct injection of order into my chaotic life, and that I now recognize as one of the first orders of business in God's creation of the universe: get this place into order! I still look back on a few things that I learned help keep depression at bay, and most of it revolves around just tidying up some—the small stuff I do have control over. Another valuable thing to learn was not to isolate, and the days were structured as to not really leave time for that.

Some good support was forthcoming. Three different multi-instrumentalist friends named Doug all knew about this and called while I was there. My sister (who was nice to me then) called and talked to Kelli too. But by far, Kelli was the star of the show when it came to support. Kelli visited every day but once, even though it was rather far. I guess I scared the hell out of her with all this but she was loyal through it all. This was before she elected to go into ministry—a profession which too often witnesses this sort of drama and has to find a way to put meaning to it. Our pastor of many years came out a few times, and if there were things I hadn't told him before, this was when I finally did, and in some cases, it revealed a cesspool of guilt and fear and other emotional poison that had yet to find daylight. (These days, I understand those bits of release as the small dyings of an old self that lead to new life, unburdened by their weight. They were some of the baby steps that I had within my control, ego willing.)

One of the most valuable single things to emerge from this experience was the learning of a new language which helped clarify a fundamental difference between how I saw the world and how my old man saw it, and how we clashed. Somehow, despite not being specifically notified of my whereabouts, but knowing the outline of what was happening that week, he managed to find out where I was, and you can imagine I was not having it since he was a significant irritant in my oyster then. He found the place on his own—I saw him drive past as I was sitting on the front porch, and I just about flipped out, dashed inside and notified the staff that he had no business there, and that "I'm not here." He came in and saw me in the back area and demanded access. I relented only under the condition that either or both Kelli or our pastor was there. I don't remember if that all came together that day or a subsequent day, but eventually it did turn out to be a five way meeting with all of them and me and Billy the therapist. (Usually the facility didn't do such encounters, so I am thankful for their exception.)

My pastor was about the only person who could get my old man to listen. Being the same age, there was a bit of peer respect. But with respect to my old man who is not being a person interested in religion or psychology, it was a miracle for him to be there at all. Sitting in the same room with Billy and my pastor, he was a fish out of water. They were intellectual giants compared to him, but moreover, they were there to take my issue seriously and to extend a helping hand. The most important thing to be said that day was from my pastor who stared him right in the eyes and declared that something real was going on here in my life and that my old man would have to pay attention and take it seriously. That day, I came to understand how my old man was materialistic, only accepting the world if it could be empirically weighed and measured somehow. Emotional conflict such as I knew flew under his radar, but it was time to pay attention or else. I wasn't really let to speak much, but it was for the better, because all I was fit to say then would be destructive. This hour was to open my old man's eyes, if such a thing were possible. Later on, he and my pastor talked outside for some time. I began to have a tempered hope that maybe something would change, since perhaps there was only one person who could address both of us in a way that might communicate honestly and forcefully without triggering defenses. Sometime during the course of the ten days at Halcyon, me and the old man sat out and talked for a while, seemingly releasing a lot of pressure, and offering a bit more hope.

kelli wrapped around ed's shoulders from behind in sweet loving embrace. awww.Kelli and me, circa 2003I was set to go home on the 15th, 11 days after the darkest day. The psychiatrist who oversaw the program there prescribed me a year of CBT—Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. At the time, it seemed like an amazing amount of talk, but it made sense. I think he prescribed Prozac too, or something like it. The followup would be through the County of San Diego, which was the body responsible for Isis and Halcyon and other centers around the county. Kelli set about finding me a therapist for the long haul, at the same place I had gone a couple years before. (The entire experience at Isis and Halcyon cost me $37, a sum so paltry it defies logic, but for which I am immensely grateful.) My pastor drove me home on an overcast Monday morning (9/15). It evoked a time back in early September 1989 when I came out of a youth group retreat which left me feeling whole and good, only to douse that soaring optimism with the first day of school on the following Monday. So of course I was apprehensive; sure things could be better in the controlled settings of the crisis houses, but what awaits back in my normal setting, at my desk? Among roommates? Dealing with the landlord? The home I returned to had two new roommates since I left. One was a joy to talk to and live with for many months to come, but the other moved in half a house worth of stuff and eventually caused a lot of grief between Kelli and me, and she left soon after she got there. Returning home was an uneasy time, since the house was such a symbol of what was wrong with life. A week after I got back, all the imagined progress with my old man evaporated when he provoked me with more of the status quo—he'd carry on with his building modifications anyway, no matter what I thought. This made me angry as hell and I smashed an unmounted window frame on the concrete slab of his patio project. There never was an improvement in his understanding, not even to this day. The house and all the related dynamics of family and control continued to shatter what relationship we had, culminating in his evicting us and selling it a couple years later. That experience just strengthened my resolve to make things work with Kelli above all and to separate the notion of what home is, versus what a house is. I didn't get the house I wanted to live at, but I got the home I needed when I decided most specifically in 2005 to unambiguously embrace my future with Kelli.

My prescribed year of solo therapy turned into two and into three or more eventually, to say nothing of periodic visits to the county psychiatrist to evaluate progress. During my early months out of Halcyon it was rough going with Kelli since it didn't make a lot of sense to her and the house thing was still a big issue, even though she did not live there, the roommate who moved out soon after she got there was seen as a threat, and Kelli felt slighted by that, and frankly, I guess I didn't do a good enough job of mitigating that. So in addition to the solo sessions, we began couples sessions and that went on for some years. I might say that that was one of the best decisions ever, and perhaps was more constructive than solo work because it dealt with a fuller picture of things—one which I had no control over. The types of things that emerged from that were just what needed attention and just what got attention in an environment where things could be worked with constructively. It required vulnerability to work, and even with a fresher mindset, it takes a lot to let the defenses drop enough to do some good. Eventually, we got engaged and married six months after that—our wedding held only a week shy of one year after this whole experience at Halcyon. Something was working.

So what does all this have to do with being born again, or born from above, or any of that? For me, it is just proof that even the New Jerusalem wasn't built in a day. Far from being an experience of blinding light or a great revelation, or any of that other miraculous stuff, it is really all a process of dying or resigning a bit more each day so that each day might bring something new. For me, the basis of that has come in my domestic life with Kelli. It is the first place where a lot of things get tried out, and where confidence is born so that other things might be taken on and changed. Kelli has been great in her capacity to open my eyes to a vast reality out there that otherwise was beyond me. She is as splendid a wife as anyone could ask for, but she has a wealth of intellect and experience which has had a huge effect on me. In a lot of great ways, she has unpacked the sheltered me of yesteryear by introducing me to a great many things which I was denied or ignored. Her seminary schooling had a completely unexpected effect on me, as I found myself ready to investigate and drawn to many things in the fields she has been studying. Combined with experience of some still topsy turvy years since Halcyon, it has been a great learning experience.

Joseph Campbell and his synthesis of religion, mythology and philosophy proved fascinating. He was the first who impressed upon me the idea of what the death and resurrection really meant in a mythical sense. I think from him I came to understand it not as some supernatural phenomenon, but as a natural growth occurrence in a life lived honestly before oneself. And it was this that Jesus wanted us to know was ours for the taking: you can die and be reborn if you let go of the old and welcome the new. The cross to bear is all the weight of life thus far, and it is only ever ours to carry, but if you live in honesty and take it on willingly, all the shortcomings (aka sins) matter not if you own them. The denial is what adds up and makes the heavy cross heavier. I suppose maybe some people are prepared to completely prostrate themselves and get it all out in one gesture, but I think many must work this way, moving more slowly and thoroughly to release oneself from bondage. One attributes it to God, but really, the business is done when one admits to oneself all the flaws and failings in kind with all the good that is within—that we are made of opposites and complementary aspects held in tension and that is the only way it could ever be, since humanity is not divinity. That isn't to say we are fallen; just that we can't be divine because that is God's domain, not ours. But such is our lot in life, so Jesus led the way to show how these opposing forces could coexist and motivate us past our selfish egos and on toward healing the world one relationship at a time. As Campbell reminds us, the Genesis story about eating of the Tree of Knowledge is about discovering duality: opposites that define our adult lives. The very things that make life complex, once we are forced to make a moral decision. The innocence lost is the simple wholeness we know before we must take that fork in the road. And the rest of life is spent trying to regain the wholeness somehow, often by stumbling, but also by grace. I think it takes both. As the last five years shows, I've had both.

Carl Jung said, "the task of a life is not to be good but to be real." He spoke of the shadow self, the dark side of one's personality that one must own in order to be whole. It is another way of looking at the things discussed above. All that has an important a role to play in development, and often in couples therapy, it was put before me, not to hurt (though it often did), but to enlighten. You can't be real if you don't face this undesirable aspect of your being, and accept it as part of the whole that is you. Many clamor to avoid this part of their being, and mask the gaping holes in their being with addictions of various sorts, abuse of power, scapegoating, etc. Carrying the cross of one's own devising is admission that even the dark areas of our being are valid and real. Fighting all this takes a lot of energy that just drains one from more productive pursuits. Fighting this also lays the groundwork for the various personality deficiencies that underpin some of the worst behavior in human history. Disowning this shadow side allows us to project it onto others where we can hate them and destroy them from afar, when what is really happening is we are hating and disowning ourselves but drawing so many others into the drama.

From my vantage point, I am at a point where I've learned some of the intellectual parts of this stuff, more like the vocabulary for being able to recognize this wisdom in many more places than I once could. And some of it I know experientially, but didn't have the means to identify it as such. I fancy the last five years as either one long passage on this born again journey, or an ever-unfolding series of rebirths as these nuggets present themselves to me in all the various ways they appear: conversations, movies and books, music, church relationships and worship, observing my dog and other "simple" things, and even in dentistry! It is hard to remember who I was in 2003 and before. I can remember a lot of actions and events, but sometimes, I am baffled at the logic behind my actions. While there never was a definitive hinge point where there was a distinctly old me and a new me, the time at Halcyon was perhaps the biggest single catalyst to move things in a new direction. While in the moment, it would seem to be a great weakness to fall that far, but time bends that idea into the realization that it might have been the greatest thing that happened, for that week or two took the spilled and scattered jigsaw pieces of my soul and put a few pieces into the right places where I could see there was a picture after all.

Monday
Sep172007

Funemployment

I hate to admit it but I have been gaining experience in this sort of thing. As far as I'm concerned, I should still be at Concepts, or even at Scantech. I just chafe at the business of giving that 110% when the new 110% is really 200%. If places want 200%, can't that just be made clear up front? It is awkward as hell explaining how I am not at these places anymore. (At Scantech, I have documented 30 instances of hirings and firings in the six months and a week that I was there. Add to that the fact that TWO floor managers demoted themselves to save their sanity and return to positions they could do more thoroughly. As far as Scantech goes, I think those numbers take a bit of the weight off my shoulders—if I ever have a chance to explain why I was dumped.) At both jobs I showed up and tried, and worked overtime when I could and tried to learn new stuff. Sure, each was "just a job" but my economic reality then made it so I had to go with it, so I did all I could and while I knew and sometimes got really depressed about how poor a fit they were for me, I prepared myself to do them with aplomb. Still, I accept that maybe there is some greater purpose in not "succeeding" at places I didn't really like anyway, so I have had that to think about. There are in fact many things I'd rather be doing than moving equipment and blueprints. Neither of those had the intrinsic rewards I sought, and seek increasingly now that I've had the chance to, um, keep looking for my new career.

This time I recreated my resume from scratch for the first time in years. I had been using an endlessly modified version that Kelli had once helped me set up a few years back. That one used the typical chronological presentation, but seeing how I've had so many different job roles—audio tech, recording engineer, driver, social service worker, sandwich artist, and more—it got unruly, and I had various resumes made to reflect all the different facets of my work history, but found that I would still have to craft one from parts of each to address certain submissions. So, finally I found out about the functional format and decided that that would be better in presenting my varied history, my accumulated skills, and to generally make me feel that I was more than a list of jobs which looked pretty scattered. Crafting the functional version gave me a chance to streamline things but also to finally envision how many types of things I have done, and to see the last 15 years in a new light. I guess there is a nuanced semantic distinction between "scattered" and "eclectic."

There have been a few ads that looked pretty good, and many that would just keep me where I was with Scantech or Concepts. I really wish I could just keep doing my old job at the senior center. That job was just so cool. I drove around a few hours a day, brought food to people, talked to them like friends, and got to listen to NPR all the way along my route. My day was short, my pay was adequate, they gave me some benefits, and the people at the center liked me. But that job and others like it are always in jeopardy of funding cuts. The commercial sector can pay better if it chooses to, and can be full time or overtime, and all that, but I don't really love it. So I hope something of socially redeeming value shows up, and perhaps leaves me feeling that even if it is for 20% less than a commercial job, it still has a meaningful reason for existing, and for me to participate in it. I do know however, that some jobs meet my criteria for meaning, and actually pay OK too. I do hunt for those too, though some of them are more high end and require degrees that I don't have. Still, I have a few practical skills and an ability to think outside the box, and so there has to be something.

In the mean time, I've had a chance to get some gardening done in preparation for the winter. I picked up my guitar, and Kelli's, and my other guitar, and my bass, and, well, I decided I had to play again after months and months of nothing musical, and years even of just playing to enjoy the sound, or to write some lyrics. I've had a chance to read some great things, and to relax a bit after seven months of steady work, more work on weekends, and moving house, and all that. I've had a chance to connect with friends again after a long while of separation. I saw Matt Zuniga for the first time in four and a half years. Kelli and I go walk the dog a mile and a half or two each night, and maybe a few pounds have been shed. With a life like that, who wants to work for the Man?

Sunday
Apr082007

Holy Week

My Easter sermon came from an unexpected place today. Some months ago, I talked my New Testament professor into crafting for me a must see/must read list, and I have tried to check a few things off the list from time to time. I gave him a range of interests of mine and cut him loose. One of the movies he suggested was On The Waterfront. I had never seen it so I could not come at it with prejudice. And a good thing. I took the day off from church today, even on Easter, because my weekend time is dear now that I work a straight 40 each week. So on this cool gray morning, I put in OTW and took it in, barely knowing what the plot was about. And, in the weird way that the universe times things, this movie gave me the total kick ass Holy Week sermon that I totally did not see coming. I had to watch the scene twice to be sure I didn't imagine it. It spoke to me in a truly deep way. It was visceral for me to watch. The sermon of course was when the priest came to give the last rights to Dugan after the industrial "accident" that would put the kibosh on his promised whistle blowing. The priest just cut loose in a passionate reminder to the other men what crucifixion really is in their own lives—the "accident," the conspiracy of silence whether out of fear or loyalty, and a host of other injustices that the men were faced with. He assured them that Jesus was among them, witnessing their suffering and their struggling against the mob bosses who keep them in economic limbo. Essentially, the crucifixion is any miscarriage of justice that kills the honest of the world while letting the guilty go off the hook. A righteous man, Jesus even, doesn't die for the sins of the world but because of them.

The other major part of my Holy Week experience was the memorial service for Caleb, written about in the previous blog. In addition, I went and watched a number of videos that his grandson had made in the last weeks or days or hours of his life, and some in the past week. And with all that, it was all the more impressive who he was and what he offered the world. Far from being a sobbing occasion, his memorial was to delight in because he was so rich an individual in all the best ways. I learned many more things about him from hearing folks speak about him. But the one thing that I think illustrates what a tremendous man he was was a story about how he had opened up the pulpit at his Colorado church to Martin Luther King Jr. in the late 50s so that King could address the white audience and bring his message before anyone who would listen and be inspired to act. All the more impressive is that when Caleb was asked years later how much of a difference he felt he made to the civil rights movement, Caleb told the story, and to add to the gravity of the story, he recalled for us that in his youth, his uncles went on lynching parties in his home state of Missouri. Did it make much of a difference, he asked rhetorically? Yes! If you consider that in one generation, that family went from lynching blacks to having Dr. King preach before a congregation of whites, being a part of such an historical shift in American history! Needless to say, Caleb defined my Easter 2007 weekend.

But it wasn't over.

Kelli and I watched a movie called In My Country, which is about the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and the painful process that the country had to go through in order to put apartheid behind them. This movie too, following on the footsteps of On the Waterfront, was gripping and wouldn't let me go. It too was a movie about crucifixion in the same way as the industrial injustice in OTW. But it was also about redemption and forgiveness when everything seems lost. The perpetrators of the war crimes would be exonerated if they would tell their sides of the stories in full honesty (and could prove they were under orders to commit such acts), and if they would hear the full stories of the victims or families of the victims. One of the most exceptional scenes was when an Afrikaner had to square with a little boy who stood by and saw his parents killed and who had remained mute since the incident years before. The Afrikaner was shattered at the testimony of the boy's guardians and he was desperate to get the monkey off his back, and he pleaded to do whatever would settle it. He got in front of the boy, and the boy rose, and after a long pause wherein he could have spat in the Afrikaner's face, or anything else one could expect when staring into the face of the man who killed your parents, the boy opened his arms and put them around the man in a hug that defied all logical thinking, but obviously would illustrate that love and forgiveness can transcend anything if we can just get out of the way.

And then, because two amazing movies on Easter isn't enough, Kelli and I went to dinner at Tara's. Tara and daughter Kalyn helped us do our dirt digging project last weekend (while Kalyn's brother Tyler was in Costa Rica on 8th grade trip), and they have been increasing presences in our lives. Tara had the whole Easter dinner, and it was a great time of connection, talk about cookies, gardening, their trip to Hawaii, pigs, and church. But since Tara and her kids get a kick out of feeding my "pig habit", we watched the movie Babe (a favorite of mine). I figured since eating ham for dinner was my transgression, cheering on the underdog pig (underhog?) to his exceptional victory would be my redeeming deed for the day. And so it was. This was the first year since Kelli and I got together that we didn't do Easter at Phil and Nancy's, and were it not for Tara being so exceedingly sweet, we might have had to fend for ourselves on only a day's notice.

Interesting that in this particular season when I have felt "churched out" and got away from my own church for a few months, I ended up going to Kelli's church at Mission Hills UCC for Maundy Thursday service, our church for Good Friday, and again for Caleb's memorial the day after. But on the day itself, the highest, holiest day of the Christian year, I skipped all of it in favor of something else that made me feel like a human who maybe is worth the water, oil, and air I consume. I guess this year I had to be honest enough with myself that I didn't want to just go through the motions anymore, or at least to not just leave it like that. It's too easy to decide to go to church on Easter and Christmas. But I felt Holy Week this week. It came from being alert to the human condition, whether it came in the form of movies, or interactions with my wife, or the little cat that visits the house as of late, or in having a good meal at a friend's home, and just sharing life. In fact, I could view my last several years as being an extended Holy Week, and the last one year or so being a resurrection for me, away from the time in the dark cave of the soul, reaching for the warmth of friends, or watching movies that grip me (even one with a pig as the star), or turning and irrigating my custom crafted organic soil a few times and feeling like life beckons and is good somehow, even in the messed up world filled with the injustices and crucifixions that surround us every day. As Elie Wiesel would say, the mystery of life is greater than the mystery of death. Move toward the light of life.

Tuesday
Mar132007

Jesus Camp

the apocalypse now poster. a custom thing with intense explosive imagery and mangled shapes seemingly stemming from a nuclear explosion. all with the dorky face of George W. Bush looking like he just pressed the red button in a bunker somewhere.Kelli and I just watched this movie and thought it was pretty much scarier than anything Hollywood can come up with, particularly with its implications for the future of our nation. Consolation comes in the form of my reading of American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips, who said that no European empire of the last 500 years or so has successfully withstood the religio-nationalistic partnership of church and state (speaking of the experience of the Dutch, Spanish, and British) without collapsing, followed by the church hemorrhaging membership because of all the broken promises of "God on our side" sorts of sentiments. It is hard to get enthusiastic about the solution to all our problems because Phillips also speaks of the other death knells of failing and failed empires: movement from a manufacturing economy into one built on increasingly abstract financial manipulations; the inability of an empire built on one energy source to move successfully to another energy source and carry on as before, and finally, the religious and nationalistic fervor mentioned above.

So, here we are today in America. The housing bubble is blowing out partially because it made loans to people who have no business getting them; we have an economy that is founded more and more on information and service (on the whole, not making anything of real worth); we have peak oil and no real prospects for an alternative to oil, but war mongering to capture access to the remaining supplies is now our primary national export product; and then, the utter nutjobbery of what this film portrays. Raising kids to believe in creationism at the expense of scientific education, to idolize George Bush and his project of deconstructing the classic liberal (in the true sense of the word—free minded) American beliefs and progressive policies that helped more people enjoy liberty, at least socially. This generation of kids and others of that mind will be the ones who strip America of its essence and replace it with reckless and narrow minded policies meant to exclude and limit. I agree with Bill Moyers that it wouldn't be so scary if they were the fringe, but they have growing power behind their mission to "claim back America for Jesus", and are driven to gain actual political power, media power, cultural sway. How can you argue that the world should be preserved when they think they are doing right by Jesus, driving the world to chaos so that the end times will be put into motion? I find it disgusting. Phillips' book reminds us that religion never had the power it once had in Holland after that empire collapsed, or after the Spanish Inquisition, or after Britain finally retreated from its claim of being the empire over which the sun never set. I guess we can hope that this religious radicalism will be brought to an end and put in its context. The problem with wishing for such a thing is that it will mean the end of the nation as we know it. But maybe that is just growing up.

Monday
Apr032006

Soul Food

This last week or so, and in a broader trend as well, I've been working on being a human (being). I've happened into a somewhat balanced work-versus-personal life arrangement. I work part time for AV Concepts now, and the hours shift both within the week and within the days themselves. I am sort of capped at 30 hours for now, and don't really get even that on a predictable basis. Still, for the expenses that I keep, it suffices in some way. I worry a lot less now than I did when I started with the company in August, and had just moved house in a completely tortuous breakdown of the last of my blood-family relations. But you would barely know all that happened.

My project has been to separate from all that downright negative shit the best I can, and get on with things. Kelli of course has been an angel in that regard, offering me at least one relationship where things can go right, and can help reverse years of all sorts of mediocre to downright horrid associations I have of family life. I am always amazed at how doing even some of the most mundane things with her, the most domesticated things, just seems to feel so right. Its amazing to me that she can be not only the woman with whom I do mundane chores, but we talk theology and philosophy, ecology, literature, psychology, and more, but we also can also become the best childhood play buddies, or we can fill any of a number of other roles for each other. I have to say that marrying her is the best thing I've ever done, and I've never done anything more right. It can be amusing sometimes when we talk about the theology stuff. She is in a seriously good school in the field of Christian theology, and is doing exceedingly well, despite doubts she might express. What's funny is that I've taken an interest in most of what she's been talking about, and sometimes pick up some of her texts or read up on some of the topics, people, or whatever. I gather my own body of knowledge, and sometimes it's funny that I would know something she didn't. She was fretting a paper on the Beatitudes and I told her to look into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to say on the matter. She forgot that we saw the same video about him and his belief that the Sermon on the Mount should be lived to the letter! She took my advice and went on to do a great paper. Or last night we were talking about existentialism and somehow I dropped in that Nietzsche was not an existentialist. He prefigured it. She said, how do you know this stuff? I had to tell her I read it on Wikipedia the night before!

However we get our information, we have fun sharing it.

But even beyond the Kelli interactions, I've had a jones to crack into life and wander around some. I got the Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers Power of Myth series to watch all the way through in one short span of time which I have never done before. I've seen scattered parts of it over the years, but it was nice to finally sit myself down and see all six hours of it in a short period. I also ripped off the audio track so I have that to hear at will now. I just dig that series because it highlights that any human has a far deeper connection than difference with other humans. The themes are so prevalent across the whole chronologic and geographic existence of humankind that it is utterly silly and sad to do the things we do to each other. I know people have their reservations about Campbell, but I think he's important to remind us of how much we all have in common. If nothing else, he is good for sparking further investigation into whatever I find interesting, and that could never be bad.

I had one day recently when I just felt like listening to Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2. I don't know why. The song just smacks me upside the head. The more I hear of the older U2 in particular, the more I like it. I totally missed out on what they were about. I knew they were a favorite of friends of mine, not least of which my pastor Jerry Lawritson who always gives me the best stuff to think about. But in more recent times, I've latched on to the U2 message, and Bono's prophetic speaking of truth.

Today I went to the city library and came back with a stack of CDs the size of which I have not plowed into in one shot for some long time. I got stuff that I have never or rarely dabbled in which somehow jumped out for me as I quickly surveyed the racks: Thomas Dorsey gospel recordings, Harmonic Overtone singing, "Lost" hymns from the New England region, Arvo Part, Bulgarian liturgical music by a male choir (I've been a fan of the female choirs, but this is not as adventurous), Johnny Cash's God album, a PBS documentary soundtrack about slaves in America, and some other stuff.

I spent seven hours in LA reading a book called Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by a feller named Eric Brendes. My work gig would allow me a five hour break between load in and loud out, and ostensibly I was to go to a hotel to rest, but that was going to entail a rush hour drive across central LA and a return drive, to which I declared "poop!" So I sat in the truck in the very noisy and inglorious loading dock of this hotel near LAX and read the book from start to finish (nearly—I had an hour or two at the hotel once I got there at the end of the night, but I did finish it there). This Eric Brendes stepped outside of the material world for about a year and a half and lived a life that even the Amish regard as backwards, but apparently it was a very affirming thing for him to rediscover his ability to do real work, to relate to real people, to enjoy a very long tenured-but-disappearing relationship with nature. The book was a great affirmation of a lot of things that have been batting around in my head: our dependence on "laborsaving" technology and machines has really robbed us of our humanity by robbing us of exercise, community resources and effort, and making us lazy, not just physically but morally too. This book had sat on my shelf for a year or more, but this time, I grabbed it on the way out the door and decided that after a week of computer hell, it was time to dive in. I was not let down. The book was just what I needed. I had recently watched 2001: A Space Odyssey which also is a big statement on man's relationship to technology. And, only a few days after this, as I watched the The Power of Myth, Campbell brings up Darth Vader and cites him as being the archetype of what a person can become when he sells his soul to the artificial entity of the state, to machines, to the low road of convenience.

Then I also cracked into a book on the matter which should be paid some attention even now: The Closing of the Western Mind. This book was actually about the rise of Christianity in Europe, and how it systematically buried and disregarded the accumulated knowledge of humanity (significantly, the Greek knowledge) which led to the dark ages as blind faith took over. I think we should take this as the lesson for our age. There needs to be a balance between the passions that religious experience can provoke, but a sanctuary for the science, literature, and other disciplines that inhabit the secular world.

I happened to bliss out on bass last night, playing along with a previously untried bunch of songs—old stuff, styles I never try to play. I just freewheeled for a few hours, calling up all sorts of songs, finding TAB on the net and having at it. I rarely try to do this, so it was interesting to try to read chords and feel my way through the parts on the fly, but it's good practice. I just never do it. But last night, it was fun trying out some Aretha, Chicago, Aerosmith and who knows what else.

I also ordered the entire Godfrey Reggio/Phillip Glass Qatsi trilogy of movies. I'd seen Koyannisqatsi, but will soon see all three in short order. I watched Naqoyqatsi a few days ago and was bowled over by the music, and put it on once more just so I could hear it blaring from my studio speakers while I got mellow on the futon at the back of the room.

A week ago, there was a party for Jerry at the church, to mark his 20 years of being our minister and friend. I took the time to write a letter which I periodically do to reflect upon his place in my life. The whole day was moving for me. The party itself was fascinating because a good number of people gave some reflections on what he had brought to their lives, and since that sort of thing is rare to hear, it was sort of like meeting him all over again as one story or another was offered, with them all adding up to reassure us of what we already know—we have a tremendously great man for a leader, teacher, and friend. Kelli and I are some of his most devoted students, but also we have a good deal of love for him because he's done so much for us. Twenty years is a long time for people who are only about 30. Anyhow, it was just one of those great times to behold, among people who obviously care about each other, and have some stirring shared experiences. Really, the family that Kelli and I have is centered around our church, and Jerry is a centerpiece of that. I often say that I would not go to other churches if not for this church, with Jerry at the helm. I don't generally feel that I could entrust my faith journey to just any minister. I spent ten years away, and came back. How's that for validating my estimation?

Oh, there is more I want to tell, but it's time for me to go to bed so I can wake in seven hours and go play my part in the Satanic Mill tomorrow, where part of me dies a little with the realization that I am somewhere near the tip of the spear in corporate America's quest for dominance in every way it can possibly acquire. I say that because my line of work provides corporations with all the slick tools and production to help veil their real intent to destroy most things in the drive for profit. I hate my part in it, but for the time being, my part time effort there allows me to carry on my Kafka-esque double agency working for the Man during the day, and subverting it all at night, by studying up on all the stuff that really matters in life—all the stories and songs and theories of how to be free, how to live like humans in an inhumane world, how to enjoy life.

Monday
May232005

Moral Superiority Over A Silverfish

Okay, after watching the Roman Polanski film The Pianst only a week ago, the imagery was fresh in my mind. In the film, there is a scene in Warsaw where Nazi soldiers force a trio of Jewish musicians to play for them, and another old man to get up and do a little dance. The soldiers requested some "happy music" for the occasion. Polanski himself is a Polish Jew who lived as a child during the shoah. His film was made up of a number of his own memories that help bring to life the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a pianist and composer who somehow survives the war as a refugee, even within some of the worst hotspots of Nazi activity in Poland. He is helped along by his professional and familial connections which provided him the Jewish equivalent of the Underground Railroad. Finally his luck runs out and he is pressed into absolute survival, scaling bombed out buildings and living in attics, often scraping for any food he can possibly find. He is somewhat befriended by a Nazi officer who like his music and somehow developed a conscience in the end days of the war before the Russians took over. The officer kept him out of sight and somewhat fed until the Germans fell.

The movie is heavy. Very heavy.

But anyway, I was surfing a minute ago and stumbled on this article about Israeli soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play violin for them in the streets. Hmm. Two generations and the shoe is already on the other foot? Have the Israelis forgotten the sort of abuse that was a centerpiece of the founding of their nation? Doesn't this fly in the face of Judaism's claim to being the first ethical monotheistic relgion?

But you know, I'm sure we'll keep investing in Israel despite this. We'll keep supporting them despite this. Because there is little or no soul in global politics and transnational business. You know, IBM helped the Nazis keep data on the death camps, and it was not a problem. You know, Prescott Bush moved a little money here and there to help the Nazi machine get up and running. Adolf Hitler idolized Henry Ford. Now we prop up the other team and help them become the oppressors. Membership in the club of aspiring fascists and totalitarian dictators is open to anyone with initiative and chutzpah. Maybe it won't get to be a massive genocidal campaign, but you know, the Nazis were wrong all along, not just when they killed their first million. Kristallnacht was wrong, and the national boycott of Jewish businesses was wrong years before that. But who cares about all that? So what's a little Palestinian death and humilation now that the oppressed have become the oppressors? Hey, at least it's not a genocide!

The group that still mourns the loss of six million of its own should know better, or they can relinquish their claims of being "ethical." Part of growing up is letting old wounds go enough so they don't keep working on the present day. I've heard it said that the Israelis should do something radical and feed the Palestinian children. Then maybe they'd be on to something. Instances like this little song and dance in the streets are exactly the things that are going to hold up the so-called peace process, and in turn will keep tempers flaring in the region for ages to come, and you can be sure that America will be affected by it too because we have our business in that part of the world, and it is provoking the ire among the residents there, ever more of whom call us the "Great Satan." Americans have maybe only two reasons for messing around in that part of the world: one is oil, and the other is the fucking nutcase "Christians" who want the eschaton (the end times) to come—an event being held up by the pesky notion of there being unconverted Jews in the world, a "problem" they have dispatched themselves to resolve, but one that will only backfire on us.

Man, religion is so fucked up. I would pay a dollar to see what Jesus would do about that violin incident. I think he'd lay some serious spiritual smackdown on their asses.

Thursday
Apr282005

Capturing The Friedmans

Man, there is a whole lot of buttfucking going on that family. Damn.

And a whole lot more denial. Damn again.

Friday
Sep102004

The End of American Beauty

I just got my copy of American Beauty on DVD. It is one of about five or fewer movies I actually own. I'd seen it a few times before. Today I watched it and found myself verklempt! By the end, I was nearly sobbing.

I guess it has hit a nerve with me. Suburban decay and the illusion that suburbia is a neat way of life has been a favorite, albeit depressing topic for me. And this movie somehow taps into that for me. Suburbia. The land of the walking dead. Nearly everyone in that movie was emotionally dead. I guess it hits me in a deep place, because sometimes I feel that way too. Or I feel that I am surrounded by people in this movie.

Suburbia is not just a place. It's a way of life. It's an institution. It is not just buildings and freeways. It is the death of our society, because it is the most celebrated way ever to effectively kill human contact, which of course makes true community impossible. Suburbia is the ultimate in disposable society. Everything in suburbia is meant to be a quick and nasty solution to a problem, but is no such thing. James Howard Kunstler is adamant about declaring suburbia is "a living arrangement that has no future." And I agree. Community isn't just a collection of houses. A house is not a home. A cul de sac is a dead end in every sense of the term. A collection of Wal-marts, ARCOs and KFCs is not a local economy. A car is not a form of independence. The latest computer, gas grill, mountain bike, DVD player, or car stereo is not a sign of superiority over anyone. All this stuff is just stuff. None of it makes any of us happier. Some of it delays agony and disappointment. These are things we fill our lives with to make ourselves feel we have something in life. Nonsense.

My grandmother died in April 2001, and within about four months of that, I had spent most of my inheritance from her on recording gear and my computer. The thing was, I had thousands of dollars of gear already, and as time passed, much of the stuff I bought that summer I have since sold off in my slow wind down of musical activity, and a great deal of frustration along the way. Before she died, her bedroom was immediately adjacent to the studio room. The computer I now type from is exactly where her bed was, and exactly on the other side of the wall from here is where my drum set was. And around there was several thousands of dollars of recording gear. And I never used a bit of it to record anything she ever said. Shit, I could have used a scratchy old cassette deck to get conversations. I was using DAT, minidisk, VS-880, and other stuff, but never did I do anything like record conversations with her in her last few years. But as soon as she died, I went and bought more of the stuff, and in that time, have not really used it. I felt something was profoundly wrong. I have gear, but not my grandmother. I have no recordings of her at all. Kinda stupid if you ask me. I don't have a good enough excuse. I can only say what happened, not why it happened. Though we lived in the same house for nearly three years, we were distant. We didn't talk much. We lead separate lives in our suburban abode. I could kick myself for not recording things she said. But at the time, I had nothing, not even a lame excuse.

Like Lester in American Beauty, I was dead for a few years. What does it mean when two people can share a house, and don't even need to bump into each other, but still create even more space between them by ignoring each other, and sniping when the opportunity arises? And why is it that I can hear about people from other countries and societies that live three generations to a small house, but they all somehow work together? I got a four bedroom house here, and that wasn't enough space for two of us. Classic suburbia. We all want to live with our own little "me zone" but it's an empty gesture. Part of the charm in the early days of suburbia was that people didn't need to live in close proximity to one another. Coming from dense cities, that must have been appealing, but here we are, about three generations into all this, and now our civilization is hanging on by a thread. Suburbia has destroyed our country, even as it was the supposed savior for a people who were trying to escape a multitude of problems.

People need to live in proximity to one another, and to other organic elements like water, trees, open space, farm land. It worked for thousands of years. The cradle of civilization sits on two major rivers. London has a river through it. New York is on the coast. Geneva is next to a lake. San Diego has a lovely natural harbor. Suburbia pays no heed to all that. Suburbia is utterly canned living that can be set up anywhere, in places humans have no business in. Phoenix is a lovely hell hole, as is Las Vegas. All of suburbia answers to a few common design types, and all are built with cars and freeways in mind, not people. People are a lower level design consideration. Suburbs are designed by engineers, not citizens. Suburbs are built by contractors, not residents. Suburbs are occupied by people from other places (because any suburb can be no older than a century at the very most). Suburbia has no history. Suburbs are total lies. Or as Kunstler says, they are cartoon environments with cartoons of houses. Suburbs have no history. EVERYTHING about suburbia is just WRONG.

But we are sold a package. We call it the American Dream. It is a neat little package including cars, houses, and all sorts of accoutrements that go with. The thing is, all that stuff is just a cover for what modern life has become—a void. People without cars are effectively second class citizens now. People who use a five year old computer are backwards. People who don't watch TV (like me) are wierd. Pedestrians are a nuisance. There are all sorts of ways that suburbia measures people and categorizes them and puts them in little boxes. People now feel like losers if they can't keep up with the Joneses. Our whole economy is built on consumers feeling they need to buy stuff—the latest model of everything. And, with that, there is no incentive to make things that actually have lasting value. Really! Our economy is based on making everything disposable. Even so-called "durable goods" like refrigerators and washing machines are meant to be replaced in a few years (if you are doing your job as a good customer/American). But look at furniture, furnishings, small appliances, and all sorts of other things. They are made cheaper and cheaper so that you will be able to afford next year's model, and the industry is advertising that you will cease to be a valid individual if you don't keep up.

Our economy, our national identity is literally based in insecurity. And a lot of people are insecure. Marilyn Manson said it best in Bowling for Columbine: keep people afraid and they will keep buying. Well, suburbia is a great place to make people insecure. It is tailor made. All of suburbia is disposable. Maybe that's why people are so damned depressed! They all know there is nothing to look forward to. Home is nothing. Home will be nothing. Homes are disposable as much as cars and buildings. Homes are a consumer commodity as much as cars and refrigerators. Use it for a while, then go get a new one. People have no real stake in the place they call home now. None of us actually built our houses. Nor did we do what the Amish do—raise a barn and the whole community is a part of it. See, THAT is how you make community. That is where people feel connected to their land, their property, their people. We have just thrown that sort of life into the trash here in America. People are all worried about homeland security. Well, you tell me. What the FUCK is there to defend, anyway? Defend KFC and Taco Bell? Wal Mart? Freeways that never clear up? Stoplights? Parking lots and garages? Gated communities? Liquor stores? Empty strip malls? Gas stations? Toxic waste dumps? Oil change shops? Failed inner cities? Rude drivers in cars with absurdly loud stereos?

What the hell is there to be happy about? What is there to protect? How is this community? Why fight for this shit? Oh, terrorism is a threat now, but no one noticed that the last fifty years have seen the true destruction of our nation, one car, one house, one fridge, and one piece of particle board furniture at a time. We've replaced real life with a plastic version made in China meant to emulate real life. Our people are more rude, our families are more broken, our towns are more dead, and our worth is measured in terms of dollars, not character or virtue. No wonder people use drugs. They just want to forget all this. And a fine thing it is to forget! Maybe I should start using drugs. All this talk gets me really fucking pissed off sometimes.

Sunday
Aug312003

The Popcorn and the Prozac

I have been on a movie watching binge lately. For some that may not be a big deal, but for me it is. See, I actively stayed away from movies for a long time. Well, I should qualify that; I never bought any or paid admission to a theater, and had no membership with rental shops. This went on for years, mostly. I only own one movie now. It's hard to say what led me to avoid movies. I do know that I didn’t have much faith in the movie industry. I don’t really like the scene. It just rubs me the wrong way in too many cases. I get too much hype and not enough substance. I also don’t watch TV very much. In short, I rejected the visual medium for years. I liked music and listened intently to music but imposed a long time limit on the quanity or quality of movies or TV watching I would experience. I did see movies, but it would likely be a rental or when Kelli worked at a theater and got free admission. I just felt that the movie market had been too obsessed with the first week ratings and not the long term durability of a movie as a piece of art. Granted, I have been wrong in enough cases, but really, movies are part of American consumer culture, and that is something I try to limit my exposure to. I resent that movies are in theaters for such short times, and by the time the reputation is honestly established for a movie, it may be off the big screen. And at $8 a shot, it's too much of a gamble for me, so I wait it out and don’t get in any hurry. I can catch it later if it is worth it at all. Some people mock me for this self-imposed regulation. It saves me money, and I get to watch when it seems its actually worth doing, after a reputation is earned.

Anyhow, as music started to fade for me and I could not seem to stay interested in that world, I was sort of looking for ways to fill the time. I was talking with my online buddy Doug and over the course of time, I realized there were some movies I really was itching to see. One day he sent me a list of 90 movies that he thought were critical viewing, and little by little, with my crappy VCR that was donated to me and my crappy TV that I inherited, Kelli and I started making more regular stops to the movie store and I began to work my way through some of Doug’s flicks, and a few that I had been wanting to see. Fortunately, there was some overlap.

I never was much one for literature and film. Those are foreign worlds to me. My ears served me more than my eyes. Each medium has its own vocabulary and conventions. Film just hardly registered with me. I suppose it's almost a recent discovery for me to realize the literary appeal of a film. I know it's not a new thing; my college English teacher taught film-as-lit among his courses, but I paid it no heed. I was way too sheltered, and even last night, Doug told me to take the stick out of my ass. (There is actually no stick in my ass, for those who might be tempted to run with this morsel of gossip.) I embraced music at the expense of other things. I was waiting to be ripe for certain things. A person has to be ready to do something. So here I am. I have been reading more, and life has been leading me to different understandings of the real trials that constitute the human condition. I guess the bubble has burst. In recent times, I have read Brave New World (Huxley), Ghost Rider (Neil Peart’s road-to-recovery journal in the wake of the closely spaced deaths of his daughter and wife less than a year later), Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, and maybe some other bits. I also am a mad internet hound, and Google gets well traveled, as does Wikipedia.com, the internet encyclopedia. I have been reading a lot more than in years past. That may not be saying a lot, but even reading (literature and bios and stuff) is sort of held back for me. Again, in too many cases, it was just foreign to me, but that is beginning to change. And it will in the future, as I will be starting back on my college path next week, after a solid decade away from the academic world.

The movies on my plate in recent times are pretty intense. In fact it almost scares me to think that I saw all these in a few weeks' time. Many are about suffering of various sorts. But not just suffering. Some are hopeful in the end. Still there are a few that are as dismal as they come. Most of them are about gross injustice and mistreatment of humanity. Sure, there is plenty of that in the news, and I hear about it often enough, but sometimes you need to have it framed into a span of time that can be digested. Trust me, the news doesn’t leave me with hope for humanity. A three hour movie with a decent ending might though.

The one movie I actually own at the moment is Shawshank Redemption. I remember seeing that in 1995 on a crappy TV in a leaky and drafty garage/bedroom in the winter with my girlfriend Robin. The TV was utter crap, and the image was so bad it was like watching through a blizzard. But the movie captivated me. It was some time till I saw it again. Finally I did see it a year or two ago, and felt the same. One week back around Christmas last year I watched it two or three times in the same week. That movie is utterly amazing to me. It uses not one special effect but leaves me in tears at the end. I am an utter novice in reviewing lit and movies, so no revelations here. The thing just speaks to me. It gives me hope.

The more stark and demanding movies (emotionally for sure and physically because some are very long) have been Bowling For Columbine, The Deer Hunter, Schindler’s List, Threads and The Day After. The last two are rather odd, and I almost gave up hope on finding them, and I never thought I would have the chance to play them back to back in the same week. Both are nuclear holocaust movies made in the mid 80s.

The Day After was the American nuclear war movie from 1983—from the height of the Cold War nuclear scares of the Reagan era. TDA was a made for TV movie that was a huge media event on the week of showing. I have read that there were hotlines set up for scared viewers to use to decompress. I remember seeing it and a certain few images were etched upon my mind as a 10 year old. I don’t remember being particularly scared, but I was marked. I think the movie ends too early, just a day after the explosion, as a result, the long term consequences are not really brought to mind. That and it seems that there actually might be hope, which as the next movie shows, there might not be much of that left if suddenly civilization is reduced to anarchy and pure survival.

Threads was a British film from a year later. I think it is even more frightening. It spans a little over 13 years and is done with a docu-drama approach. Statistics turn up at the start of each scene, charting the progress of the events leading up to the attack and for months and years later. The premise of the movie is that the fabric of society will unravel into threads in the wake of a nuclear attack (in this movie, basically the entire world is the victim of a massive nuclear volley between the super powers, so there is no aid to be had because USA, UK and USSR and chunks of Asia are destroyed uniformly). First, all anyone can do is survive at all, for all the immediate damage that has been done to cities and agricultural areas. The civic infrastucture is rendered helpless and useless, and people must be let to die if they are too badly injured and doomed to death, so that food (the only currency that matters at all) can be made available for the remaining abled bodies that can do the work to be done, which, as time goes on in the movie, is again, anything to survive. The hospitals are all laid to waste, the doctors have nothing but hacksaws and torn clothing to aid their work. Really, it's a grim and terrible thing. As the movie goes on, it charts the “progress” —disease, radiation sickness, famine, genetic mutation in generations to follow, summary execution of criminals (those who steal food or cause unrest against the last shreds of the government), survival alone being placed above all else, at the cost of education (a last priority in a “society” that goes further and further backwards to a medieval way of life—every man for himself, subsistance, living off anything that can be killed for food, etc.) Anyhow, its a damn frightening film. I watched it twice in two days. If you ever want to watch a film without a happy ending, watch Threads.

Bowling For Columbine should be required viewing in this country. In fact, anything that shakes a stick at violence needs to be required viewing. The thing that pleased me to see was that Michael Moore was hoping to address an issue from within. The opening of the movie lays it out: he is a card carrying member of the NRA, has a long history with guns and the people who keep them. He’s not simply attacking the use of guns in America from an ivory tower, he’s in the thick of it, and for a few reasons close to him (the shooting deaths of some young people in his community, it seems), he seeks to take on some questions that don’t seem to be getting asked enough. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I watched it. The movie starts off with a bank that gives away guns for new account holders. Welcome to America. Land of the free, home of the armed. I could happily live in Canada after seeing that movie.

I had heard about The Deer Hunter some years back. I heard only that it was about a Vietnam vet who had a hard time returning to normalcy at home. I read up on this and a number of other movies. It's a three hour flick, but I watched it three times in the week I had it. I was just mowed down with that one too. Christopher Walken’s performance is still lodged in my mind. Again, I don’t have much reviewer prowess to flaunt. The movie just rocked my pathetic little world. And then, in some weird cosmic convergence of events, at the end of the week when I first saw the movie, one of the men I serve at the senior center turned out to be a Vietnam vet, having been the point man and dog handler for his infantry unit. He was the tip of the spear for his fellow men. He and his dog had the harrowing job of hunting mines, traps, pits, trip wires, and all that stuff, so that the other men could safely pass. He told me about his life since, and though it was nothing like Deer Hunter, but the movie primed me for hearing what he had to say, about raging fits of suicidal and homicidal anger, inability to keep a job, nightmares and flashbacks, and visits to the mental ward which continue to this day. At least the film didn’t have a happy ending to cheapen the experience. That would have been tragic. That week was quite a time for realizing how horrible that whole experience was.

Schindler’s List is one that was on the back burner for a long time. I had forgotten about Schindler as a real life figure till the end of the movie. Again, I have nothing to say but wow. Not just that 1100 people had an underground railroad to freedom and survival, but that it came in the form of an exploitive, greedy, self centered schemer that was as bad as any Nazi, but had a Christ-moment of purity and became a temporary angel to those he guarded, for whatever reason. I guess one never knows. I watched it twice this week.

The Last Temptation of Christ. I was invited to go on a field trip to watch this movie when it came out (I was 16). The brouhaha was enough that permission from my family was denied as the rest of my group was permitted to go. I of course am a big fan of the score, a masterful piece of music and recording by any measure, and so the movie was in the back of my mind for some years. And now I SOOOOOOOO wish I had seen this years ago. I assure you I would be a different person had I seen this before I did. I think it takes a jackass to not be moved profoundly by this movie. This movie stirred me deeply. And you know what? It was made by a crew passionate about making the movie and it was done for a (paltry) $7 million. I mean, a work of ART done for next to nothing, and released as a major movie? Wow. Can that be done now? Or is it all $200 million dollar budget CRAP that is only good for a few kicks on opening weekend, only to go to DVD and video after a month or less? Spare me the high budget, whiz-bang shootemup shit meant to just suck money out of the pockets. That’s what I ran from when I stayed away from movies. Unfortunately for me, I missed a few in the process, but I am ripe for these and more now.