Friday, July 31, 2009

Captain Kirk Is Climbing a Mountain

The Butt girls posted this, and I can't stop listening to it... even when it's not playing. It's full of what's ridiculous and good about life, including that people bothered to make it at all.
Not anytime soon, you know, but when the time comes, please play it at my funeral. And I'd like everyone to get up and dance.

(Shatner was talking--originally--about directing Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, 1989, the worst of the ST films.)

How close?

I'm sitting with my coffee and my laptop in the morning sun on the back deck of the next place I'm housesitting. I just moved over here yesterday, without even going home in between. The dog here, Natty Bumppo, is sitting on the steps near me. Inside are three cats.

With my laptop, I feel like a nomad, more or less at home as long as it's with me. I like that a lot.
As a car-free person though, it is a bit of a hassle moving my filmmaking stuff around. Since I haven't filmed anything much since last fall, it was exciting to get out the red velvet gloves (the sign of the guilt of the House of Atreus) and so forth for the shoot tomorrow, but it's a lot to haul around on a bike.

This week my sister had brain surgery (successful!) to remove the benign tumor discovered a couple months ago. She has asked me not to blog about her life, so I won't go on about hers, but mine's been a bit unsettled over the past year, as I try and reposition myself in the family. Mostly I'm trying to find and maintain a proper, sustainable distance instead of the "entirely entangled or entirely estranged" model I grew up with.

I've been thinking a lot this summer about how we humans can --and cannot--help one another. The topic has come up independently with about five different people.

I used to be of the "get-as-close-as-you-can" school of intimacy, where "help" means being under one another's skin, practically. This was based partly on the 1960's "Let it all hang out" philosophy + the feminist/therapy/addiction-recovery model popular in the 1980s, which proposed talking about everything and hashing over every issue.

This was partly a healthy response to a culture of secrets and lies, where a lot of our families looked like Vietnam or Watergate.
I love the ideal of honest relationships, but at some point (belatedly, like, the other day), I realized that being up close and personal all the time was not working for me with everyone. There is an art to finding and maintaining an honest distance too, and I've never learned it.

Another angle on this question of "how close?" is the question of giving advice, which I've been discussing on e-mail with Lee. One of the things I flinch at when I look back at my life is the times I bludgeoned or badgered people with well-intentioned advice.
Or I thought it was well-intentioned.
Now I think the motivation for giving other people unasked-for advice is almost never generosity of spirit but almost always a desire to control others and to protect oneself. And I can't think of any instance when such advice helped me. (I mean about personal matters, of course. When it comes to computers, please advise me!)

So, my latest philosophy about giving advice is: Don't.
That's too cut and dried of course! But I think it's a good default setting. And then I'm trying to use love, not fear, as an indicator to gauge how close to stand to people.

Maybe that sounds obvious? It hasn't been in my life.

These are just some preliminary thoughts. I'd like to write more about this. But now I'm off to pick up a tailcoat from Allan for the shoot tomorrow! And Sascha has a top hat! It wasn't until about 2 a.m. last night that I realized I doubt a top hat will stay on top of the Fly's domed head. Maybe she can just hold it in her hands.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Special Effects: Take a Risk

"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."
~Isaac Asimov

Last year when I started filmmaking I realized I want to learn to blow things up. Looks like I may have found a go-to guy who writes how-to books and also philosophizes on the benefits of living dangerously:
William Gurstelle.
His new book is Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. I haven't read it yet, just a review, but it sounds like what I need.

In an interview with Twin Cities Metro, June 2009, Gurstelle says:

"There's an art to living well, and part of that art is living dangerously. ...I'm not talking about living recklessly. [But] if we remove all the risk from people's lives, if we make everything safe, if everything has a corner protector on it, it turns everything into this bland, grey, soulless environment. Who wants to live like that?"

For me, living dangerously is a matter of taking the next, small step, not jumping wildly and freaking myself out. (Tried it. Didn't really help.)
Eventually I'd like to be able to say, like the Asimov quote above, that my fears don't stop me from living, even in extreme circumstances.

I'm not particularly afraid of blowing things up. The fears I'd most like to face down are more psychological than physical. One of the things that scares me the most is being a fool in public, and feeling ashamed. Blogging is a great way for me to take small steps toward being more comfortable with that.
And my patron saint/guardian angel is William Shatner.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Message to the Russian Star Trek Club, & 365 - 48: Spock Hair

(I didn't think about how my new short, haircut looks like Mr. Spock's until the Spock doll where I'm housesitting suggested I brush my bangs forward... If I'd dye it shoe-polish black, even more.)

This morning, I sent off this message my Russian Trek friend had asked me to write to go along with my video.
This is my third attempt to write something that doesn't sound like a pompous pronouncement from the United Nations. I think it still sounds a bit strangled, but it's sincere, anyway...

Dear Star Trek Family, Russian Branch:

A couple months ago, I got a message on youTube from Capt. J. L. Paparazzzzi asking if she could translate my autobiographical Star Trek video into Russian. She wanted to show it at this year's Russian Star Trek convention, and she asked me to write a few words to you all.

I live in the United States, and I was thrilled by what she wrote about my video: "It's wonderful that people on the other side of the planet feel the same way." 

That's a message right out of Star Trek itself. We human inhabitants of Planet Earth do feel the same way, basically, despite our infinite diversity.
If you looked at us from outer space at this time in our history, you might not know this. But you'd know it if you looked at a convention of Star Trek fans, even though some of us would be painted blue and wearing antennae on our heads.

Speaking of antennae, the Star Trek "family" reminds me of an article I read about the spread of Argentine ants. These ants used to live only in South America, but modern human transportation has allowed them to build super-colonies around the world. These ants are territorial and very aggressive toward other ants. 
However, when scientists put together Argentine ants from super-colonies on different continents, instead of fighting each other, the ants recognized one another as family. They didn't fight each other but instead rubbed antennae together in friendly greeting.

I hope Capt. J. L. won't mind if I say that working on the translation with her has been like waving our antennae at each other.

Of course, just because we are the same species doesn't mean it's always easy to communicate. We e-mailed back and forth several times, trying to find the right words. What, for instance, did I mean by saying Spock was "a pill"? How could we translate a quote from the Bible for people who might not recognize it the way many Americans would?

Or maybe I should say we were like Uhura at her communications console. We've come closer to having Star Trek-like technology in the past fifty years, since the first human went into space. 
As Russians, you probably know that when Yuri Gagarin fell to Earth after that historic space flight, he told the first people he met, a farmer and her daughter, that he had to "find a telephone to call Moscow!" 
I only recently heard that quote, and I laughed to think that now regular folks carry the equivalent of Captain Kirk's communicator every day.

Star Trek has been right about a lot of its predictions. But I hope it will be wrong about others: I hope we won't have to play out Star Trek VIII: First Contact and half-destroy ourselves before we finally get our act together.

I'm not sure Vulcans will come to our rescue, like in that movie, but I do believe it's people with Star Trek-like philosophies who will help avoid the stupidity of global destruction. In fact, Trekkies want to offer the antenna of peace and fellowship to all life-forms, not just ones that look like us. Two of my favorite Star Trek episodes are about that: "The Devil in the Dark" (1967), from The Original Series, and "The Measure of a Man" (1989), from The Next Generation.

In the first, as you know, Spock mind-melds with the Horta--a life-form that looks like a pepperoni pizza--and discovers she's an intelligent being protecting her children from humans who were thoughtlessly destroying her eggs. Once the Horta and the humans can communicate, they work together peacefully.

And in "The Measure of a Man," you remember, Captain Picard has to defend the android Data's right to self-determination against a prosecutor who proclaims, "Data is a toaster."
In a chilling speech, Picard's friend Guinan points out to the captain that there have always been "disposable creatures" who have no rights.

Spock, Picard--and all of Star Trek--argue that there are no "disposable creatures." There are no "ants" who are not part of our interconnected family on Earth. In fact, Star Trek says, Let's get out our antennae and wave them like mad at the Universe, trusting that we will find members of our family out there too.

Thanks to Capt. J. L. for translating the video. Our work together gives me hope that Star Trek was right about humanity's peaceful future. I hope you enjoy "Star Trek, My Love."

Live long and prosper!
*waves antennae*

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"That big wild good life teeming along the road that is north to the future."

OK. I give in. All my remaining reservations about William Shatner withered like the Alaskan roadside flowers were a few months ago or will be a few months from now when I watched him recite some of Sarah Palin's farewell speech, as she resigns as gov. of Alaska. (Here's the full text of her speech. It's a doozy.)

Read by Bill, it reminds me of Mary Oliver, with all due respect, and inspires my Kirk of the Week for this week:

In case you don't recall, this is from the episode "The Paradise Syndrome," when Kirk gets amnesia for a few months and lives with a Native American group that aliens moved to a distant planet because... well, I forget the details, but anyway, Kirk enjoys being out of office for a while.

365 - 47: The Midwich Stare

The place I'm housesitting has both a blonde wig and a brick wall, and for someone's who's just watched Village of the Damned, this is an irresistible temptation. (Re a couple posts back; the brick wall is what the hero thinks of so the blond alien children can't read his mind).

After many tries, I finally realize it's a lot harder to stare blankly than you might think... I look waaaay more like a ABBA wannabe biker chick than a cool alien. The director of Village said he used dark-eyed children so the contrast with their light hair would be stronger, so I've got that anyway.

This 365 project is truly taking me places I would normally never go. I would never have bothered with this photo if I wasn't under orders to take photos of myself. Even though the order came from me. So, I continue to be glad I shoved myself in this direction. Because it's a hoot!

Monday, July 27, 2009

365 - 46: Rereading Harry Potter


Saw the latest Harry Potter film (Half-Blood Prince). Liked it. Much more of a longtime Alan Rickman fan than a J. K. Rowling fan, but enjoyed rereading her final three volumes (borrowed) last week nonetheless. Or re-skimming, more like...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Evening

Leo, the kitty I am housesitting, oversaw me sending Slovakia off to the proofreader just now. That means I am done writing it. I'll see it again when it gets its photos and index and so forth, but basically I am done.
I really made this a ridiculously long, long task. But the editor, a crispy cookie indeed, told me, "This book does not annoy me," and that's high praise, coming from her.
Now I shall go mope, in that inevitable postpartum way.

Also, I am sad that I still don't get the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I am missing too many of the itty-bitty pieces that go into making history make sense for that particular lump of it to make sense to me.
What oh what did Franz Josef, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, do to get an arhcipelago of 191 ice-covered islands with a total area of 16,134 km² and no native inhabitants named after him?
I have no idea.

But I am not desolate. No, because I have experienced this before. You run into some huge thing you never heard of before and for a long time you think you'll never understand it, but after a while, you do. Except, in my case, for the higher math.

I am confident that unless I meet with misfortune, one day I will understand Franz Josef Land.

365 - 45: Sunday Morning


Free Special Effect: Staring

"You have to be taught to leave us alone." --David (Mark Stephens), Village of the Damned (dir. Wolf Rilla, UK, 1960)

Village of the Damned is a movie made from John Wyndham's book The Midwich Cuckoos. (JW also wrote The Day of the Triffids, which I read last week.) In the book, aliens impregnate the women of a quiet English village, like cuckoos leave their eggs in other birds' nests. The film pussyfoots around any sexual matters, but it's basically the same thing.

The retitle is a mistake. Maybe "cuckoos" doesn't make for a great movie title, but the title Village of the Damned is too religious and too hot. The temperature of this movie is cool, as cool as the children's white-blond hair. And damnation has nothing to do with it. The point is the children are alien to human ways of moral reasoning, an alienness that is spookier than familiar evils.
It's amazing how disturbing it is just to introduce something unrecognizable into a familiar nest. It's a special effect all in itself.

Village of the Damned cost $200,000 to make, and its main special effect is the eyes of the spooky children glowing milky white. But they wouldn't even have had to do that--having children stand perfectly still and stare at you blankly, like ten-year-old Mark Stephens is doing here, is spooky enough.

I am adding staring to my bag of low-budget tricks--like filming people walking backwards and then playing the film forward for a not-of-this-world walk, in Brother from Another Planet.
I like these tricks better, in some ways, than million-dollar special effects. You can see individual intelligences behind them, figuring out problems--"What can we do with a jar of olives and a piece of string?"--and not just the superiority of the collective hive mind at work.
Of course I like that too, or I wouldn't love my computer. But it's still the individual who's most interesting. I suppose because each of us is one.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lend me your tails?

"I have no need for good souls: an accomplice is what I wanted."
--Electra to her brother Orestes, The Flies, act 2, Jean-Paul Sartre

We're set to shoot the final scene of Orestes and the Fly on Saturday, August 1. Has anyone in town got a tailcoat they can lend for the Fly to wear? (It doesn't have to fit, since the Fly is a scrounger.) If nothing else, I'll rent one, but, eek... expensive...
Still, it is the Fly's dream to be Fred Astaire, and you can be Fred without Ginger but not without tails.
I guess a morning coat could substitute? Where's my Costume person?

(Btw, shooting the final scene doesn't mean it's the final shoot--the next weekend I am shooting the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, starring bink's 9-year-old niece. I'd forgotten how much fun this all is, but I need someone to track Continuity.)

I'm not leading a goal-driven life, but this summer I heard myself saying to the Apple Computer trainer that my goal is to get this filmmaking thing down so that next summer I can enter the 48-Hour Film Challenge. (Teams register to complete a film in 48 hours.)
I think that as much as learning the technology, this involves learning to beg and schmooze for favors.
So, lend me your tails?
I'll name you as an Accomplice Assistant Producer!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Take Your Foot Off the Brake

I'm pondering what "calming down," which I mentioned in yesterday's post, means to me.
The physical changes that come with age--the possible lessening of sexual drive, for instance--aren't what I mean. I have noticed that some people are calm about those natural changes and some are not. (Judging from the popularity of hair dyes and viagra, I'd bet more not-calm than calm.)
In fact, I feel less confusion and shame about sexuality at midlife, so while my hormonal impulses may be less intense--and I'm not sure they are--I actually feel more authentically sexual. Even if that means getting all broody about Captain Kirk... (Those teddy-bear ears! That pretty nose!)

"Calm down" is a phrase that can seem almost like a weapon. When kids are being "too" exuberant, adults may yell this at them. So calming down may seem like an unwelcome restriction, a diminishment of energy, a tamping down of desire.

That's not what I mean either.
I mean something more like an example Anthony deMello uses: if we are nervous when we drive, we keep tapping the brakes. We waste fuel, we wear out parts, and we make ourselves seasick. Or, if we are inattentive, we may drive with the parking brake on and really burn-out the system.
If we are confident and calm, we take our foot off the brake and just drive smoothly. If we need to stop or swerve, we do it. So, calming down is about having more power*, not less, to sit in the driver's seat, go where we're going, and deal with whatever comes up.

Like right now. I am resisting writing an index due today and if I don't get off the web and DO it, I'm going to make myself and the person who's waiting for it unhappy.
So, foot off the brake, Fresca!
* By "power" I simply mean the ability to do or to be, like the Latin root (possere?), not the ramped-up stuff of political wrestling and emo-porn.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Calming Down"

I had coffee this morning with my old friend J. and a friend of hers, D., who during our conversation named "calming down" as one aspect for him--one good aspect--of middle age.

It's an absolutely normal phrase, of course, but it struck me as so fresh and wonderful that I wrote it down with a ballpoint pen on my palm. (The palm of my hand, that is, not a palm pilot.)

Turns out D. sits zen at a zen center just a couple miles from me, and he told me about the Sunday morning dharma talks. I think I'll go this Sunday. I knew everyone was welcome, but it helps me to have a personal invitation to cut through my inertia or fear. It makes me happy to note the way invitations to life keep on appearing...

Ever since I had that fun awareness of non-being when I woke up in the recovery room this spring I've been wondering if I might like to move beyond practicing thinking about Buddhism to practicing it physically, which basically means sitting down and not thinking, a physical manifestation of calming down.

I think it's funny that "calming down" is such a delightful idea to me at this stage of life. When I was younger, I'd certainly have seen it as a loss, a downshifting of life. Now it looks to me like shifting into a more powerful state--like switching from a flashy, vrooming car that uses a ton of fuel simply to announce its presence to a BMW that quietly gets about its business of working extremely well.

[car ad from Production Cars]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Turandot a Vulcan?

Does every blogger have bits and pieces of unfinished posts lying around? Back when I was putting together "Star Trek: Virgil Says Don't Sleep" to the aria "Nessun Dorma," from the opera Turandot, I saved these posters of Turandot because I thought the Chinese dominatrixy heroine looked like the Vulcan T'Pring, Mr. Spock's betrothed from "Amok Time," (2nd row, below), but I never got around to posting them, thinking I wanted to write something about Cold War politics and Star Trek to go with them. But I didn't and I probably won't soon, so here they are.

People sometimes say Star Trek's "alien races" (how's that for loaded language?) stood in for Cold War-era powers. The received wisdom is that the Klingons were the Soviets, though I'm not sure they line up quite right. The Vulcans and the Romulans were projections of the Inscrutable Asian that existed in the 1960s Western mind-- the Romulans specifically representing the hostile Chinese. (Does that make the Vulcans Japanese?) Jim Kirk, of course, played for the Home Team. So, maybe the Chinese Turandot is actually a Romulan, like the commander from "The Enterprise Incident" (botttom row, below).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And That's the Way It Was

I was going to post this "Walter Cronkite and the Lunar Landing" on July 20, the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing in 1969, but with Walter Cronkite's death last night, today fits better.

I grew up with Walter Cronkite's voice in the living room every evening. I never thought much about him. I didn't think much about the moon landing either. These things were just the background noise of my life.
Cronkite's ability to be wowed like a kid by the moon landing (speechless and misty, at 1:01)--after all the human stupidity and horror he had covered on the nightly news-- is one of my favorite moments on film, but only in recent years, when I'm grateful for the reminder that you can be starry eyed and moonstruck no matter how smart and well-informed you are.

R.I.P., Mr. Cronkite.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I have got to learn Photoshop...

First there was bink's new vid Star Trek: Dog Gone! with its amazing photoshopped Joops.
Then Jen alerted me to the Shatner Image Challenge from b3ta:
"The new Star Trek film is out, and it's great. The only problem is it completely lacks William Shatner. So let's see Shatnerised movies: Shatner on the Roof, The Good The Bad and The Shatner, Indiana Shatner, Shatnerman! SHATNER!"

[From "About b3ta":
B3ta is all about celebrating the best stuff on the internet. We send out a free, weekly newsletter stuffed with the finest links the internet has to offer and we also have messageboards where anybody can show off their creative skills."]
The challenge is over, so I don't have to learn photoshop TODAY (I don't even own it), but obviously I must one of these days soon, so I can play too.
This afternoon, anyway, I'm going to an Apple one-to-one session for help with iMovie. I imported most of the footage of the Fly I shot last year and now I a bit stunned at the editing task ahead of me. But stunned in a happy way!

There are 19 (!) pages of entries for the Shatner Challenge. The quality varies a lot, but some of them are really good. Here are a few I especially liked.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Star Trek: Dog Gone! the latest bink vid

The follow-up to Star Trek: So Fluffy! A bold work of comedic genius!
by bink + guest starring Joop, the wire-haired fox terrier.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

365 - 44: Tendrils


"Pumped Up on Carbon Dioxide, Vines Strengthen Their Grip", by Elizabeth Williamson, The Washington Post, July 15, 2006. Three years of increased CO2 later, the grape vines are indeed doing astonishingly well here.

..."It was some little time later that the first one picked up its roots and walked."
--The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham, 1951

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

365 - 43: Krista Blossoms

This spring when Krista came over and made dinner for convalescing me, she brought a butternut squash from the past autumn. When she cut it open, we saw its seeds had started to sprout inside. I planted some of them in pots on the porch, and this morning appeared the first of their blossoms.

Krista is blossoming too, and growing right out of her pot--having finished her PhD, she's off to take up her first professorial post in a couple weeks. I'll miss her. I'll have to mail her a squash...

[365, all together]

Monday, July 13, 2009

365 - 42: Summertime

The Economist Film Review

"I’ll have that brand on enough beef to feed the whole country. Good beef for hungry people. Beef to make them strong, to make them grow."
--John Wayne in Red River (1948)

The Economist doesn't do film reviews, but after watching Red River again for the first time in years, I think they should.
If they can publish such amusing obituaries, I'm sure they could round up someone to write irreverant, insightful, and interesting pieces about the role of economics in film. And funny, of course.

Red River's emotional core is the competition and love between fathers and sons. This pair (John Wayne and Montgomery Clift) has different kinds of masculinity--the actors are perfectly cast to show that--and different ways of getting the meat to market, literally. Wayne is a brute whom men fear, an old-fashioned model of manhood who takes what he wants. Clift is more democratic--his men follow him because they like and respect him. He has a gun, of course, but he doesn't use it except in a game of compare and contrast with his fellow cowboy Cherry Valence (John Ireland, above).

This post-World War II film suggests that while the nation needed brute force to tame it, a modern nation needs a more flexible, diplomatic touch... Could it have been subtle propaganda for the new United Nations? The Marshall Plan? I have no clue.
It would take someone who knew economic history--and film history--and who had a sense of humor to write this column well. Does such a person exist?
I think it's a great idea, anyway, which I'm throwing out there.
I watched Picnic again too, and noted the grain elevators, serviced by the railroad William Holden rides into town on--and then out again.
That film is more about sex as a commodity than grain, but it's all tied together. The mother tries to convince her daughter Madge (Kim Novak) to use her sexuality--her only marketable skill--to get her rich boyfriend, whose family owns the granaries, to propose to her.

But Madge wants to be a free agent, and is attracted to the Holden character, who is an economic loser, but physically quite a towering pillar himself...
Now that I've launched into this idea about economics and film, it occurs to me I should google it. And I find a course
Economics in Popular Film offered at Mt. Holyoke College.

And, hey! the same prof offers (or offered in 2006, anyway) The Politico-Cultural Economic Analysis of Star Trek.

The course description doesn't promise witty, irreverant material for my proposed column, though:
"This course introduces students to political economy, post-structuralist methodology, and the application of economic theory to an important body of cultural artifacts [Star Trek]."
But maybe if you shake it out vigorously, something amusing would fall out?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The 1st Installment of The Making of "Orestes and the Fly"

[2 minutes long. Made on my little still camera, not the HD camcorder. My first live-motion edit on iMovie '09.]

365 - 41: My Father's Hand and Mine

My mother had long, elegant fingers, but I inherited my father's hands.
Our hands--his, left, mine right--are resting on an Apple box--that's a photo of a computer printed on the box.

(P.S. I've started putting all the 365 photos together as I go along, without any words, here. It's only once they started to pile up that they started to get interesting to me.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Through the Mirror

Top "Into the Glass" by John Tenniel; Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
Middle Orpheus (Orphee, dir. Jean Cocteau, France, 1949): Jean Marais as Orpheus passes through a mirror to enter the Underworld.
Bottom The Matrix (dir. Wachowski Brothers, USA, 1999): The hero Neo (Keanu Reeves) begins what is described as his descent down the rabbit hole by penetrating a mirror.

I watched The Matrix for the first time last night. (I don't know how I missed it in 1999, and since--the clerk at the video store was incredulous.)
Wow--what a smashing mishmash! It's like a wonderful game: Name That Reference.
The movie draws on a wide range of cultural, philosophical, and political images and ideas, sometimes blatantly --characters mention Alice in Wonderland; the child who talks Zen sports robes and a shaved head--often not.
I'm sure there must be books about The Matrix, but it's fun to line up as many references as I can. Besides drawing on old influences (Kung Fu, Brother from Another Planet, etc. etc.), the movie created a whole bunch of new ones too, of course, so you can work forward as well as backward.
I posted a couple here, above, that occurred to me (though, as I say, they do mention Alice.)

What interests me most after watching the movie, though, isn't the enormously creative weave of references but how disturbing I find the image of a savior, even a Zen one. The hero, Neo (Keanu Reeves), is a regular guy who turns out to be the promised messiah--The One--who is going to save humanity from Wage-Slavery. In a really creative twist on slavery (new to me, anyway), intelligent machines have wired humans floating suspended in gel-pods, to serve as batteries for them. The machines stream computer simulations (the matrix) into the human minds, so they think they are leading regular lives.

This messianic figure turns up a lot in comic books, yes? I'm not very familiar with this world, but Superman is Nietzsche's Uberman, right? And Batman is his darker side. (Some real historical people like Che Guevara have almost become a comic-book figure to a certain kind of American too.)

While Neo and his salvific kind are obviously religious figures, often the people who like them are profoundly anti-religion.
These heroes seem like fascistic fantasies to me, created by and designed to appeal to a particular kind of mind that sees itself as beleaguered... hemmed in by social restrictions and the little minds of other people.
I felt this way myself when I was younger and I would have adored The Matrix when I was twenty instead of being mildly bored and mildly disturbed---(as well as totally admiring its creativity!).

What changed for me was that at some point I realized I had far more freedom than I was even using, and what was stopping me wasn't other people but my own mind, which is pretty much like everyone else's: full of self-limitations.
Whether you call those limitations by psychological, physics, or religious terms-- ego or pride, inertia or sloth--we pretty much all come with a full set of them, in varying degrees, and it's not an external savior who is going to rescue us from them.

Anyway, when you see that kind of Hero at work in the real world, you realize the human ego can't really bear the weight of being The One, and people who think they are up for it, or who get that role thrust upon them, turn into monsters. Stalin, Jim Jones, Tom Cruise?

I have a feeling I've stumbled onto something everybody already knows. But since I have paid so little attention to comic culture and its critics, I'm just working it through for myself.

This is a half-baked post, and now I have to go meet my dad, who's in town this weekend, but I wanted to start to record my tangled thoughts. I'll just end with a couple more images that I though were fun line-ups of ideas.

Below, top The Matrix (dir. Wachowski Brothers, USA, 1999): Neo (Keanu Reeves) sees his lifelong "reality" for what it is: the strings of code of a computer simulation. I love this visual representation of "reality" as a construct.
(I find parts of the hero myth disturbing, but this movie does an amazing job making ideas visual, and I like that a lot.)
Below, bottom "Belshazzar's Feast," by Rembrandt, (1635): Belshazzar sees the writing on the wall. Belshazzar was the son of Nebuchadnezzar, and I thought maybe the brothers intended this reference to him when they named the humans' ship Nebuchadnezzar, but turns out they named it after another meaning of the word: a huge bottle of champagne that holds 15 liters! Still, I see a connection between these images of magic words/code being the deeper reality behind what we experience as "real."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

365 - 40: In 3D

(Cheating a bit--I asked Maura to take this photo of me with her cell phone at the showing of the judges choices of the best of the "48-Hour Film Fest"--teams compete to make a film in 48 hours.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Стар Трек, любовь моя (Star Trek, My Love)

Here it is! In Russian!
Translated by "Capt. J. L. Paparazzzzi"
(I'm not posting it on youTube until she shows it next month to the Russian Star Trek Club gathering--a big camping trip in woods outside Moscow, I gather-- but I thought you guys might get a kick out of seeing it, some of you. I wish I could show it to Obama, our Vulcan president... Is he still in Moscow?)

Here's the original in English, from last summer, if you haven't seen it:
Star Trek, My Love.

365 - 39: Afternoon Nap


I was so zonked yesterday from staying up till 4 a.m. to finish subtitling my vid in Russian, I took a long nap. (Of course I took the photo when I was only half-asleep.) Only trouble with sleeping in the daytime is my magic glow-in-the-dark Spock and Kirk, just peeking into the photo, aren't activated.

I got my draft of Slovakia back from the editor, and the final ms is due next week, so that's what's up for the next few days.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

365 - 38: Doing My Bit for World Peace


I'm subtitling my autobiographical Star Trek vid ("Star Trek, My Love") in Russian today. For the Russian Star Trek club's annual con this August, when some 100 fans gather for a week, outside Moscow.
It's taking me a lot longer than I expected, but I feel I'm doing my part to end the Cold Room Temperature War. (Obama says it's over, but I'm not sure everyone's in agreement about the temperature...)

I recently read an article about a kind of ant that has spread worldwide. Ants from different "supercolonies" on different continents won't attack each other, like ants usually do, because they know they're of the same species.
Instead, they make nice and wave their antennae at each other.
Star Trek fans are like this too. Some of us even paint ourselves blue and stick antennae on our heads to help the cause.

I'm also learning the moviemaking program on my new computer, as I do this--you can sorta see I'm working with two computers here, my old one, with the unrecoverable old copy of the video on it (that blessedly still shows the timing of each picture, so I can copy it), and my new one.
It's such a relief to have the right tool for the job--I realize now I was working with the equivalent of a rusty can opener. Better than trying to open a can of pineapple with a boat oar, but still very frustrating.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

American Fly

"The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion." --Molly Ivins

. . . . . . . . . Happy Fourth of July!

Friday, July 3, 2009

My Neighbor Buddha

[from My Neighbor Totoro]

I. My Stretchy Hand-Me-Down Religion

I grew up knowing Christianity was a flexible religion. It had to be, to incorporate all my ancestors. My mother's grandfather, born during the American Civil War, was an evangelical preacher in the hills of Kentucky. My father's grandfather worked at the Catholic Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, with this Christ, left, before he emigrated to the United States in 1905.

My parents left their respective religions and raised their kids on Art History. Pictures of martyrs and virgins and god, oh my! I loved it.

I guess it'd be untrue to say I had an easy time becoming a Catholic Christian, but that was largely because of the politics, not the plot and the cast of characters. Once I got into it, I didn't have trouble seeing Jesus manifest in the world--at the bus stop, in a hamburger. I relate to all sorts of images, from majestic Byzantine mosaic Christs to plastic-laminated laughing Jesuses.

It's my religion--I inherited it.
Like other stuff from my family and culture, it doesn't always fit me and some of it I threw out. Some of the worst things in my life happened to me at church, and some of the best things.
At any rate, I know it pretty well. I can usually tell the true stuff from the accretions of human puffery. Of course, other Christians might not agree with me, but I'm comfortable with that.
I know how to bend with the religion, and I know where it bends--or, anyway, I know where I'm not sure how much more either of us can take--like family.

II. Don't Touch the Saffron Robes

Buddhism is different. In some ways, it fits me better; but I don't know how to relax in its presence. It's like a cool but very formal neighbor, and I get all overly reverential around it.

I've read a bunch about Buddhism, over thirty years. Films, tapes, took a class. A few years ago, I sat zen a few times with a group I didn't feel much at home with.
They were mostly Episcopalian-types, wearing hand-dyed fabrics they'd bought while hiking in Tibet. I feel more comfortable when there are a few folks in the congregation wearing pink Disneyland sweatshirts.
But Buddhism in white America isn't really at that stage, at least not as I encounter it here in the Midwest.

Mostly, I just try and incorporate some of the practices (breathing) and the general outlook (give small gifts) in a hit or miss way in my life.

Buddhism generally isn't big into images--well, Zen isn't anyway--but some Buddhist teachings suggest you choose your own image of Buddha, one you relate to. Could be a rock, could be a gold-leaf statue. Seems like calligraphic black-ink circles are popular, or publishers think they are. I've looked at tons of Buddhas, and they generally feel too sacrosanct or too abstract. I want an image I can put on a keychain.

Hinduism--now there's a religion with wonderfully garish sacred toys. But the sort of stripped-down Buddhism I like doesn't usually have gods that look like pulp-art octopi.
Or so I thought.

III. My Cute Buddha

This week when I was looking through other people's film blogs, I found this really cute picture of Godzilla. I'm not a monster-movie or horror-flick fan, and I've never seen any Godzilla films. I had no idea the monster is so cute! I saved the picture, just cause I liked it a lot.

And then yesterday at the library I picked up a book I'd never seen before:
Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, & Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye, by Brad Warner, former punk bassist and current Zen priest and Japanese movie-monster fan. He even blogs on Blogger:
Hardcore Zen.
The cover, which I gather he helped designed, shows a Buddha punk riding Godzilla.

I haven't read much of the book yet, and maybe I don't need to; it's main impact was that the author treats Buddhism as if it's flexible, like I'd treat Christianity--like Play-Doh you can stick up your nose, like a Slinky that gets wrapped around the dog, like a yo-yo that bounces back and maybe hits you in the eye. All these things you can misuse, break, and twist out of shape, but they are the toys you felt comfortable with.

American Buddhism is evolving. I haven't followed it closely--I want to stress this--but I've seen it manifest among granola-eaters; the urban chic who'd pay $5.95 for a Living Simply magazine; and a lot of other sincere, good-hearted people. They've always seemed to have the same reverential, talk-quietly-and-bow-to-a-flower attitude I had.
The only American Buddhist I've really related to is Pema Chodron, who has a wicked little laugh. Of course, she's a major force, so that's not a little thing.

OK, so I want to repeat, I haven't been exactly plugged into American Buddhism, but I've glanced in now and then, and I haven't seen a raucous Trekkie Budddhist from the heartland--till now: Brad Warner's from Cleveland, and here's his blog post "Spock Thoughts".

When I saw that, Geez! I thought. I had my Buddha in sight all along, after all.
Maybe it's not exactly Godzilla (I'd have to watch the movie to be sure). But it's certainly a relative. Someone like Totoro (picture at top of post), the benevolent Japanese, what is Totoro?
Totoro is a wee bit too sweet, so I'm wrapping the two together:
Child of Totoro and Godzilla.
That's my neighbor Buddha. Not the elegant neighbor who glides silently in a cloud of incense, but the one on the other side--the big fat beer-drinking one, who's a lot of fun and would breathe fire on people who beat you up and help you get that Play-Doh out of your nose when you pushed it too far in.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

365 - 37: Director Fly

Finally! Filmed a scene of Orestes and the Fly today--the first since last fall. I'd even forgotten where to plug in the microphone. But bink as the Fly was sharp as ever--it's a role she was born to play.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Never Slept with Charlemagne

[Illustrations from bink's Camino sketchbook.]

I often experience a long lag time between when I finish with things and when things finish with me. Sometimes I don't even know something's unfinished until some final piece clicks into place, maybe a long time afterward. 

This summer, for instance, I finished up a trip I took eight years ago, mostly by realizing I'd never quite accepted that it was what it was.

I. No Bad Pilgrims

The summer of 2001, I walked across northern Spain, on the medieval pilgrimage trail the Camino de Santiago, with bink.

The previous year, Shirley MacLaine had published a book about walking the Camino too. She'd written about being accompanied by an angel and about connecting with her past life as Charlemagne's lover.

It annoyed me when European pilgrims I met thought I was an American of her sort. I was full of Latin, not feathers, and serious intentions to straighten out the path of my twisted life. 
I'd recently quit my job of twelve+ years, and I didn't know what I wanted to do next. My married lover wanted to leave his wife and move in with me when I got back, and some interior red light was signaling THIS IS A DISASTER, but I wasn't sure. 

I told people I was walking because I wanted to be a better person. I wasn't looking for sex with dead emperors.

I wasn't looking for flayed feet either, but that's what I got. 
A couple days in, at the Roncevalles Pass, where, according to The Song of Roland, Charlemagne was killed in battle, I put my first band-aid on my little toe. 

A couple weeks later, the pilgrimage had become about walking. Nobody, including me, talked much about spirituality. 
Everybody, including me, talked a lot about feet.

And a couple weeks after that, toward the end of the walk, I knew I hadn't miraculously become a better person. 
I was exactly the same person, with all my concerns and confusions, but now with ripped up feet.

I stood in the dirt path under the hot sun in rural Spain and wept. 

"I'm a bad pilgrim," I told bink.

"It's not possible to be a bad pilgrim," she said. "Pilgrims walk. You're walking. You're a pilgrim."

II. Home Again

After five weeks and five hundred miles, I went home. 
My twisty life was right where I'd left it.

 People asked me what I'd learned. I told them mostly I'd learned that blisters really, really hurt a lot. Also cheap red wine with Coca-Cola is surprisingly good.

I worked up a couple insights too:
"You can have whatever you want, but you have to carry it"

and "Maybe happiness is the baseline of existence", a thought I'd had when I was blissfully happy one evening, even though my feet excruciating painful. 

I also offered bink's wonderful phrase, "It's not possible to be a bad pilgrim." 

In truth, however, I was a little deflated that I couldn't report dramatic spiritual transformation.
Still, I suspected there was something profound in realizing I wasn't going to turn into a better person. A Catholic monk even told me I was a better person for knowing that...

III. I Missed Nothing Special

A few weeks ago, I was sitting on my porch in the sun reading Meetings with Remarkable Women: Buddhist Teachers in America. One of the teachers, Joko Beck, talks about the Zen concept of "nothing special." 
Our minds get attached to everything, she says, even to enlightenment, which is freedom from clinging to attachments.

As one practices being aware, however, over time the mind naturally loses interest in holding on so tight to attachment and opens, now and again, onto enlightenment.
But this is "nothing special." 
It is ordinary. It comes and goes. Don't cling onto it. Just go on sitting.

Nothing special.
Just go on sitting.

When I read that--though I've read this sort of thing many times before--all of a sudden it flashed on me that I always thought I'd missed something on Camino. 

All of a sudden, I saw that in fact I had hoped--secretly, even from myself--that some divine being would descend on me or Charlemagne would appear in a dream and tell me what to do about my life (as if he'd know).

I laughed.
It was delightful to realize I had overlooked the very ordinary, nothing special times that had opened over and over and over again because I wanted the openings to come with neon signs, pointing: Enlightenment Here
As if I'd hit the jackpot.
But of course that's exactly what enlightenment is: 
 no self. no sign. no prize. 
Just go on walking.

The Camino had been full of openings onto no thing. 
One night on Camino, for instance, another pilgrim told me that she'd unintentionally walked more than 40 km one scorching day. She'd miscalculated where the next albergue was and got stuck far between two. She didn't want to sleep outside, so she'd just kept walking. 
She got so tired, she told me, "I forgot who I was."

We laughed together about the shared experience of walking along with heavy packs and empty minds. 

Nothing special.

Maybe I finally realized I didn't miss anything--or, I had missed no thing--because so many dramatic things have happened since. 

I came home to break up with the married man, without angelic guidance. 
My cockatiel bird flew away one hot summer night, and planes flew into buildings. 
My mother killed herself, and profound dreams piled up. 
I started working on geography books. Angels and emperors came and went. Neon signs pointed to Star Trek. 

Terrible things. 

Wonderful things.

And you know what? 
None of them have been more or less "special" than walking. I didn't miss anything. That was the thing.

Slept with Charlemagne? Didn't sleep with Charlemagne? Either way, as they say, you gotta do the laundry.