Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Applause

One of the greatest lovemaking acts in the world is between an artist and his audience.

Therefore, the greatest place for an artist to be is on a stage. To stand in front of the people who love his work, his talent, his gift. To stand in front of them and share it with them. It must be the best high in the world. Musicians and other performance artists experience it in the most direct way. Music shows have people clapping and shouting and cheering with enthusiasm after each song, and during. Magicians, jugglers, acrobats, and other performers of the circus also experience the appreciation of the audience in the most immediate way, although there’s a difference between a performer who is a part of a show and a musician who people come especially to see. I think as far as audience feedback goes, nothing beats being a musician/singer on stage. Yes, it’s hard, doing shows one after the other. It demands energy and stamina. But there’s a reason why music legends such as Madonna and The Rolling Stones still perform while most of the people their age are rotting away in places with names such as “Green Fountains”. You see, it’s the love of the audience. It’s intoxicating. Is it an ego-trip? Partly, for sure. But as long you keep your ego in check, as long as it’s not too inflated, as long as you can enjoy the adoration and not get too caught up in it, it’s just an awesome feeling. For musicians, going on tour is the best thing there is. It is nothing like recording in the studio. It is connecting with the people who buy and enjoy and love their music. It’s seeing them, hearing them, feeling them.

As an artist, some fans will leave you, especially if you’ve been in some sort of creative decline, or “sold out” in their opinion. It’s hard, keeping the love of the audience. It’s hard to win it and it’s even harder to keep it. But, you will always have your core of fans, your little family, who travels along with you, metaphorically and literally, over the years. And even if you don’t have a fan base yet, even if it’s your first performance ever, even if it’s in a school talent show instead of in a stadium, you can still connect with an audience like no artist can. And it’s still magic.

Actors in the theater have it a little different. It really depends on the kind of show you’re making. If you’re making a comedy, you’ll be able to enjoy the crowd’s response during your performance, just like a rocker on stage (depending if it’s funny, of course). If it’s a drama, you’ll have to wait until the end to get your applause. That part, where the actors return to stage and take their bow, is the most magical part in theater, it’s the moment where the performer goes in front of his audience and says “there you go, I did my part, now it’s your turn”. It’s awesome being an actor in the theater if only for that moment, if only for that feeling, doing the same play each and every night, and when it’s over, feeling the love rising out of the seats in a roar of applause, and like a wave, washing over you, affirming your talent, your gift, telling you that you have found what you were brought to this Earth to do. Those applause, this love, they are the stamp of approval on the talent sheet you received from god.

A writer, on the other hand, cannot experience this immediacy, this connection with an audience. A writer performs his act on the page, adding words to words, creating a story or a poem. The closest a writer can get to feeling like a rock star is if he reads his work on stage. And that’s really more of a performance, only of the literary kind. The writer needs to be proficient with it, or he risks boring his audience to tears, just like a musician. But a writer cannot see or feel first hand how his work affects people. He cannot be in your living room with you while you read his book. He cannot hear you gasp, laugh, cry. Writing is the most intimate of artistic endeavors. The connection between the author and his reader is always done through the mind. Yes, a writer can receive letters from readers telling him how his work affected them, but it is certainly not as direct as hearing your crowd cheer and applaud your live performance as a fire-eater or as a Blues artist.

A playwright can hear his words spoken on stage and can take joy in the love of the audience. He is not necessarily on stage bowing, or even present at the theater every night, but he can experience it behind the scenes. Better than nothing, right?

And what about the screenwriter?

Screenwriting, that weird amalgamation of the playwright and the novelist. A script, unlike a novel or a play, is not an independent piece (barring some exceptions…). It is the blueprint for a motion picture. A screenwriter cannot experience a direct link with his audience unless he sits in a theater showing the film he wrote. And even then, it is anonymous. It is like the playwright behind the stage.

A writer is not a performer. Writers are usually shy and prefer it this way. But there’s something to be said about getting your applause. For me, showing my short film in the theater was a high point, and the closest I got to being a rock star. Of course, I cherished it with complete anonymity, and I was somewhat tense since when you’re making a comedy you always worry the audience won’t laugh. But when they do, and in the right spots, and when they gasp in the right spots, you can imagine yourself on the stage, a guitar in your hand, shredding it, or maybe sitting at a piano, hammering those tunes, your fingers dancing on the keyboard like drunk ballerinas.

And when it ends, you stand up, and take a bow, and thank them.

And then you are one with your audience.

And you love them for it.

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Rehearsal

Your touch was a soft breeze
And the sea and the waves were a chorus of cheers
While we danced in the moonlight, giddy and slight
In a whirlwind of soulful lust and delight
And a thousand sunsets came and went
Making me feel like a tortured saint
And holding your hands and kissing your brow
I remembered how it was so long ago
That we danced in the moonlight, the sweetest moonlight
And our shadows were merging, forming a stain
And a tree up above was calling our name
In a cold night on a quiet road in an undiscovered land
Just the soft touch of a welting rose and the smell of its shame
‘Cause you know that it’s never enough
To say what we feel or do what we like
And you see right through me and I through you
No matter what comes and no matter who’s who
Just tell me this one thing and I’ll be on my way
Why did you forget about me at the end of a day?
Why did we rehearse for so long, dancing around each other,
If the music never started playing and it was all a clutter?
On the side of a road
Where owls call in vain
I cleaned up my glasses and sat in the rain

YouTubbing: My favorite online videos of the 21st century

At first , I wanted to post a list of my favorite films of the decade (just for the record, this is the best movie of the decade as far as I’m concerned), but there are so many lists already out there, and there are so many movies to sift through in nine years (and to think of it, 2010 is part of this decade too, so the real bookkeeping should take place next year), that I decided to focus on something a little different and much more manageable:

Online video.

Okay, so you can’t really call it “best online videos of the decade” since there wasn’t any online video before this decade, but the online-video world have been growing exponentially, both technically and creatively. Sure, 80 percent of it is crap – glorified home movies, or simply imitations of better videos, but the remaining 20 percent has given us some really entertaining stuff, right there on our computer screens (and later on our smartphones and other portable gadgets), with almost no mediators – straight from the guy at home to you, the viewer. And let me tell you, there are some seriously creative folks out there who can write, edit and perform – people we might have never had the pleasure of sampling their talent if not for the internet and especially YouTube – the Hall Of Fame for online video, at least until the next “It” video site comes along.

I chose to share with you five of the best videos I have watched these past few years. I only chose from videos who were made by “regular” people specifically for the internet. So I didn’t take into account any movie trailers, scenes and clips from movies or TV shows, or official music videos. Only user generated material. The criteria for me was simple: How re-watchable is the video? How original it is? Have i watched it more than once? more than 50 times? Is it still entertaining even by the 50th time? Two of these five videos were included just because they always make me laugh, no matter how many times I watch them. The other three are pure brilliance as far as I’m concerned.

It warms my heart to see people like me and you put time and effort, usually with no financial gain whatsoever, just to share it with other people. They did it just because they wanted too, just because it was fun.
Above all else, this decade brought the internet to almost every household and person in the world. A technological invention that has become such an essential part in our lives that we can hardly remember how it was before. And as far as creativity goes, the internet has freed us all.

So, in descending order, five of the greatest online videos:

5. Dramatic Cat

I really tried not to include any cat videos. We’re all sick of cat videos. But the hell with it, this short clip is hilarious, and there’s no ignoring the fact that cats have overrun YouTube. And why not? They’re certainly the most mischievous, mysterious, cute and amazing household pet in the world. So as an honorary representative of all 1,344,988 cat videos on the internet, I present to you my favorite one.

4. Marvel Vs. DC: The Dark Knight

There are many fanboy parodies on the net. Everything from Star Wars to Star Trek to Comics to anything in between. Some of these parodies I adore, but I didn’t include them because they seemed too particular, meaning, they might not make sense to the general public, or to put in a more direct way: I’m not everyone will get the joke.
But this video is much more accessible. Everybody knows Batman and everybody knows The Dark Knight. It’s a great satire of the phenomenon that the second Chris Nolan Batman film, a smashing artistic and financial success. It’s very well written and performed, and I laugh every time. Like the cat video, this is here also as the honorary representative of all the fan-made parodies out there, and it’s certainly one of the best.

3. Hey clip

I might seem less than objective here, since the performers are from my own country, but with 28 million views and countless tributes, including one by a Mr. Kevin Smith(!), I guess I’m not the only one. It’s a simple clip, but extraordinary at the same time, and a perfect proof of home-grown talent just finding its own audience in its own natural way.
Two teenage girls from a small town in Israel decided to shoot a clip in the bedroom of one of them for the Pixies’ song Hey, just on a lark. The result was a huge hit on YouTube. It’s Francis Ford Coppola’s vision materializing in front of our eyes: The girl with the cheap video camera is creating something that is on par or even better than many official music videos out there. Fantastic editing and shot selection, and the girls have perfect timing and chemistry together, and they have so much fun, and it shows, and it’s catching, and it’s real , and it just puts a smile on your face. It’s a winner.

2. Shining trailer

The first (if I’m not mistaken) and still the best of all the mock trailers that swept through YouTube in recent years. Notice that it’s not The Shining, but Shining. A grim horror film has been turned into a heartwarming family drama with the aid of music, voice-over, and again, brilliant editing. If I was an editing teacher that’s the first thing I would show my students. But it’s not just a great parody and a great example of the power and magic of editing, it’s also a damn good trailer in its own right. I mean, I wanna see this film! The part where Peter Gabriel’s chorus for Solsbury Hill comes in still sends giddy shivers down my spine. If the guy that made this isn’t cutting trailers in Hollywood right now, or even better, cutting movies, then something is seriously wrong.

1. Where the hell is Matt?

A 32 year-old American Video Game developer got fed up with it all and felt like he was missing out on life. He had money, so he began traveling.

One more thing you should know about him is that he had this sort of funny, bad dance move he used to do.

Okay, back to the trip: A friend filmed Matt doing his dance in Hanoi. Like many internet videos, it became viral and got the attention of a chewing-gum company that offered to sponsor Matt and send him around the world to do his little dance in different places. And that’s what he did.

Up to now it sounds pretty silly, I admit.

But then, in 2008, he was back on the road again.

And this time, he didn’t dance alone.

The result is one of the most uplifting, exhilarating, and heart-warming little montages I have ever seen. It does nothing short of giving me a since of renewed faith in mankind as a species. It’s stunning and beautiful in more ways than I can describe. I love it.

So here’s to music and joy and silly dancing and especially love, because that is the most powerful message of this video.

Oh, and what a gorgeous world we have.

So that’s it. Here’s hoping for more oodles of grassroots creativity on the World Wide Web as it enters its second decade and expands and grows to make us all one nation under the stars. It’s been a hell of a ride.

The Symphony of Being

First, please watch this:

Probably the most age old question of all is: What is the meaning of life?

Inspired by Carl Sagan’s words in this video, I will venture to say that maybe, just maybe, the Meaning is in the asking of this question. To ask this question is to express our ability to ponder, to investigate, and to appreciate and experience the world as well as the universe. To ask the questions, but not necessarily find the answers. Pondering those questions, in some form or another, instead of living constantly in our heads and minds and confined little worlds, worlds that are more often than not consumed by materialism: Money, possessions, status.

We should be more aware of the Big Picture. I mean, won’t all the little wars in the Middle East seem rather foolish if a giant asteroid was hurdling our way? They won’t seem important anymore, because they’re not. They’re based on unimportant things. They are based on the “little world”. Oh, it all seems very important to the collective egos of the warring parties. But all the wars and conflicts in the world are a result of the same narrow, petty, problem-creating, frightened and fragile human ego. Same goes for conflicts between individual people. Conflict between nations is just the same thing only on a larger scale. How much misery and suffering, when all that needs to be done is to realize what a miracle it is that we are on this Earth to begin with, as intelligent, sentient beings, and that we are able to write about it and talk about it and think about us being here and what it all means.
We are not something that is separate from the universe. We are the universe. Our bodies are made of stardust, materials from constellations long gone which still live on through us. In our bodies we carry not only the biological imprint of all humanity before us, but also of the space around us, the galaxies, the suns, moons and comets. They live inside us and every one of us is a piece of the whole. We are all indeed connected.
Like Sagan says, the fact that we have been provided with the ability to muse on that on so many different levels is the way of the universe to ponder its own nature and existence, a way for the universe to look at itself. Because how will the universe be able to contemplate itself if not through sentient beings, not only here on Earth, but on countless other planets and in countless other galaxies? How can the universe experience itself if not through us?

And yet, we seem to have lost that connection with the bigger picture and somehow got lost inside our heads. Millions of humans around the world are busy settling scores, making judgments, proving they’re right and the other side is wrong, playing mind-games, poisoning the collective psyche, poisoning relationships, and eventually poisoning the very planet we live on as a physical manifestation of that. What is the corporate culture if not one huge ego streak? What is war and violence if not the human ego getting out of hand?

For eons, Man has felt alone. Religion, in its purest form, stems from the human need to curb this loneliness, to provide some kind of an answer, to make us feel we’re not alone, to let us know there is someone out there looking out for us.
I don’t know if there is or isn’t, but call it what you will: Spaciousness, Consciousness, Awareness, or the most common name but also the most loaded one, God – since we are the universe, this is not something which is external to us. Ultimately, the creator and creations of the universe are one and the same. It’s almost as if we created ourselves. Not in a conventional, physical term, naturally, but to use a yummy metaphor, it’s like there’s a cake being baked in the oven, but the cake is made of the same material as the oven.

We are our own children and our own parents (time as we know it is a concept created by the human mind), because at the core we are all one and the same, and we all take part in this Symphony of Being, whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we accept it or not. Our senses give us a picture of the world, but it is a limited one, because there are many other layers that we cannot perceive. So maybe the real answer to the meaning of life cannot be known or perceived, it can only be felt.

On the other hand, here’s another musing on the Meaning of it all:

The Bag Collector

There’s probably no better time than when I’m looking to move from my apartment to bring up a rather peculiar aspect of my life, and that aspect is that I collect bags.
When I say that I collect bags I don’t really mean that I collect them. I don’t go to antique bag stores in dingy alleys on a search for rare, old bags in mint condition. When I say I collect bags I mean that I find it hard to throw bags after I use them.
If you will open the cupboards under my sink or look above the desk in my workplace you will come upon hordes (okay, not hordes, but too many) bags in different shapes, sizes and texture. Stacked or meshed together in a dizzying display of colors and logos. In many of them you may find old receipts, which hearken back to the day the bags were originally used. Canada, where I reside, environmentally-conscious as it is, has recently implemented a five-cent price tag on carry bags. You bought something? You want a bag? Pay up. This can be annoying because sometimes you’re just walking down the street from somewhere to somewhere and want to buy something and you don’t carry a bag, because when you left the house/office/Turkish bath you didn’t know you were gonna buy that something and you find your self having to pay–

But I digress. The bottom line is that it is a good thing. No, not for the environment, for me! Yes, finally I have use for all the bags I’ve been saving! It even makes the bag-collecting more special, because each bag that is stacked in my house has been bought and paid for. It is a product, exactly like the things it’s carrying. So now I may have fewer bags, but the value of the “collection” is much higher. Of course, once in a while a bag is thrown, especially if it serves as a garbage bag. So yes, I don’t necessarily horde them, I use them when I can.
Because you see, that’s the whole point. My mother is a bag collector, and for some reason I followed her footsteps with the same twisted psychology which lies behind this bag-collecting perversion, and here it is:

You never know when you’re gonna need a bag.

That’s right. You never know! Why waste a good bag after a one-time use? Yes! I am the original environmentalist! I didn’t throw bags away before I used them at least a second time after the original usage. Now, I am sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t throw out bags after a one-time use, especially in this environmentally-conscious day and age, but still, I believe that I have taken the bag-collecting skills into a new height, because, well… you never know when you’ll need one!

I can say it without it sounding inappropriate so I’ll say it: there is something very Jewish in the not-throwing-stuff-away school of thought. Jews have been persecuted for many generations by many persecutors and always found it hard to stay in one place, so the order of the day was to move. Move. Move. And when you move, you need to pack, and when you pack, what do you need? You got it. Bags. Lots and lots of bags. So I’m pretty sure it is in our collective gene pool – to not throw packaging materials away. If I could save boxes without filling up my apartment and suffocating on carton fumes, I guess I would’ve collected boxes too, because, you know… you never know when you’ll need a box.

One of the greatest scenes in modern cinema is the scene from American Beauty – pretty much the thematic centerpiece of the film – where the bag dances in the wind, and it is indeed beautiful. One of the reasons it’s beautiful is because it is a bag being set free. It does not need to carry anything anymore. It does not need to obey the whims of man. It is a free spirit, doing as it pleases, jumps here, flies there, and dances.

If I had the guts to do it, if i could let go, I would’ve waited for a particularly windy day, and then take all my bags outside and set them free. I would watch them fly down or up the street, or get caught on a tree branch, or stick to a window like a squashed bug. I would let them all go, all the bags I’ve collected, and let them do as they will, or rather, let the wind do as it will with them.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s not really “green” to throw plastic bags all over the place, but it’s a metaphor, right? The metaphor.

Hmm… or is it?

Yeah, it’s a metaphor.

For now.

Dream Journal: Once Upon A Time In The West

I’m in a pub.

They’re putting white table cloths and candles on the tables and I ask this woman what’s going on and she says “They’re celebrating Hanuka”. “They” meaning the Jews. I remember pegging her as a racist.
I know I need to go out because I have the house all for myself. It’s a long weekend because of Rosh Hashana and everybody will be out. “Everybody” means my family.

Then I go outside. It’s night. I get lost. Can’t find the streetcar stop. Someone approaches with a pickup truck – I’m standing on this sandy pit and he drives backwards and doesn’t see me and almost runs me over.

I go down to the fork in the road and choose another street, there’s police or something like that blocking the street.
Coincidentally, this is the way to my work. Apparently in the dream I’m equating “going to work” with “going home”.

Somehow I find myself in the station but I don’t recognize it. It’s white and clean and I see stairs spiraling up. It’s more like a fire station then a subway station. On the stairs I find this pale green cloth, or piece of clothing. Can’t remember exactly. It’s wrapped up in a nylon bag, I think. I take it out of the wrap and wear it because I think I need to if I want to get on the train. Then I realize it doesn’t even fit me and I take it off. At that point this guy comes out of a room and offers me coffee – expensive kind of coffee, with foam and all that crap – in a small china cup, on a plate, like in a coffee shop. The room where he was in, there are other people there. Looks like the lunch room or something, or the kitchenette. I ask him where’s the train and he tells me.

The platform is outside, and it’s day time. It looks like it came out of a western. Bushes, and rocks and pebbles. I’m looking for a place to put my coffee cup (which I hardly touched) and eventually just puts it on a rock, but then I look to the side and see there’s a bunch of similar cups on the sandy ground not far from where I stand, so I go and put the plate with the cup on the ground next to the other cups.
At some point this petite Asian girl comes along. She hugs two ugly monstrous green lizards with her arms, and between her fingers she holds a wreathing, live cockroach (recurring symbol #1: Bugs). She proceeds to put the cockroach on the ground and then releases the lizards after it. She explains to us that she’s an artist who creates tattoos on the ground. When the green lizards kill the cockroach they use this greenish goo which they shoot from their mouths. The girl uses this goo to create her paintings. She turns over some rocks to show us other works she did in the area. You know how you usually find snakes and scorpions if you turn over a rock in a western? Well, here you find “earth tattoos”. The paintings themselves are imprinted on the bottom of the rock, and not on the ground, and interestingly enough, they’re not green but pretty colorful. That’s all I remember from them.
Then the girl collects her little monsters and the dead, squashed cockroach and walks away. I remember feeling disgusted.

Then I go back to the platform and wait for the train. I meet this kid, maybe 15 years old, and he says something about “filmmakers don’t have to wait for trains” or “don’t have to” something. I don’t remember exactly what. I tell him some filmmakers do. Oh, and he’s there with his mother.

Then the train arrives and we all get in. Of course, the inside of the train is quite different than a subway train. It’s wide, the seats are arranged in rows in the middle of the space, and there’s a screen on the wall facing the seats (recurring symbol #2: screens). The interior reminds me more of a ship then of a train. There’s other stuff going on in the train, some talk about something, with the kid and his mother, but I don’t remember what. There’s also something showing on the screen, I think, but I don’t remember what it was either. I do remember that at some point, either on the train or afterward, I’m meeting a couple of my friends, a husband and wife, and joins them in my hurry to get home, maybe they’ll show me the way, but we end up in the same pub where the dream began (now that I think of it, the pub also has this strong Western vibe to it. Wooden tables and chairs, and just the layout of a saloon).
They look very tired. I almost feel guilty for dragging them along.
Anyway, it’s night again, and the pub is pretty empty. We sit and talk, I don’t remember about what. But they keep telling me to lower my voice because I disturb this lonely, middle-aged (bald?) guy sitting next to us. So I try and lower my voice.
At some point I realize I finally went the wrong way again, so I tell them I have to go, and then I leave. Outside, There’s heavy rain. I open my black umbrella but it doesn’t help, the rain is so hard the umbrella is actually sagging in my hand, and the pole is leaning to one side and almost breaking.
So I go back inside.
I’m not sure what comes before or after here, but I find myself talking with the bald guy and apologizing if I disturbed him, he seems depressed and tells me about the incident where this Arab guy came to him earlier and threatened him with a knife. According to my response, I was supposed to have witnessed this incident, but if you read back, you’ll see I have no recollection of that in the dream sequence. I proceed to tell him that the guy was just showing off and that he had no real intention of hurting him.

Then I find that my friends have switched tables. In order to get to where they’re seating now I need to go through this attractive couple who are blocking the pass. I ask them politely to let me pass and they politely do. Then the guy stands up and mentions my shirt. Apparently, I’m wearing my Scarface shirt, or a version of it. He talks about the quote which is on the shirt. It’s a real quote from the movie: “Say hello to my little friend”. But it doesn’t appear on my real shirt. But on my dream shirt, apparently it is. I look down and see it written in small letters. I smile at the guy. He seems to be ecstatic by the shirt. His blond wife/girlfriend also smiles, I think.

I join my friends but then I notice someone coming in. It’s a girl. She’s very familiar to me but I can’t peg her down a 100 percent. She’s brunette, with short hair, and a beauty spot above her lip, like Madonna’s or Cindy Crawford’s. She’s looking around and then notices me and starts asking me something (I think she says she was late for something but I’m not sure). Suddenly she stops, as if she forgot the etiquette, and hugs me. I hug her back and plant a kiss on her cheek. She lets go of me and gets back to her business, which is asking her question, which for the life of me I can’t remember.

I also don’t think I had an answer for her.

I go back to my friends while the girl sits in another table, alone. My friends tell me something like “what are you doing sitting here with us, go talk with this girl.”

But I don’t think I’m going. I think the dream ended at this point, in the anti-climactic way in which dreams often do.

Shooting Stars

It was a particularly clear night, and the skies were filled with stars, like millions of flashlights in a dark cave.

He pulled at a blade of grass next to the blanket, tearing it out of the ground. Then he let it go, and the wind caught it.
It flew away like a green little bird.

The wind was picking up. It was a rather chilly night. Summer was coming to an end. He looked to his left, where she lay, her face upturned, bathed by the moonlight.
“A penny for your thoughts,” he said.
“I’m not thinking. I’m just lookin’.”
He smiled. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
She nodded. “Yeah, it’s amazing.”
He propped himself up, his left elbow sinking into the blanket.
“Looking at all this magnificence, I feel insignificant and significant at the same time,” she added.
Then she took a deep breath and let it out slowly, closing her eyes, relishing the breath.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“Just a little bit.”
“I’ll get the sweater from the car.”
“No. It’s okay.” she touched his arm. “Stay.”
“Alright.”
He sat cross-legged on the blanket.
“Hey!” he said in a tone to suggest he just discovered the wheel.
“What?”
“I have a question for you.”
She looked at him.
“What is it?”
“Well… do you love me?”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“Well, do you?”
“Of course I do”.
“Then why are you leaving?”
Now she sat up too.
“Didn’t we have that conversation already?”
“I don’t want you to leave.”
“It’s not my call.”
“You can stay at my place. I’m sure my parents won’t mind.”
“Tim…” She touched his thigh with manicured fingers. “Tim, I can’t. I have to be with my family.”
“Then you don’t love me.”
“Tim…”
“How can you say you love me and then leave? If you have no problem leaving, then you don’t really love me. If you loved me, you would’ve stayed.”
“Tim, it’s not forever. I’m not leaving you. I’m leaving this town.”
“Same thing. And don’t tell me you won’t meet another guy in the big city… come on, they’ll be all over you like flies. They don’t take no for an answer over there.”
She turned her face towards the stars again, saying:
“You don’t need to worry about it.”
“Oh, really?”
“Really. And you’re ruining this beautiful night for me. For us.”
“Well, you’re leaving in the morning.”
“Exactly, So I want this night to be special.”
He dropped on his back again, pouting. She shook her head.
Suddenly, her eyes caught something.
“Look!” she said, pointing up.
“What?”
“Up there! A shooting star!”
He followed her finger and saw it. Saw them, A group of shooting stars flying across the night sky from east to west, like streams of confetti.
“Oh, they’re beautiful! Go on, Tim, make a wish! I’ll make one too! Quickly, before they disappear!”
He looked up.
She looked up.
And then the shooting stars were gone, vanishing behind the horizon.

After a while it started getting cold, so they went back to the car.
Tim turned on the heating, but it didn’t seem to work.
He punched the dashboard with frustration, shouting: “What a goddamn jalopy!”
“Relax,” she said.
He grabbed the wheel, pushed the gas pedal, and turned the car around, ready to leave the hill and descend down the path.
But before hitting the marked dirt road, he stopped the car, and turned his face to look at her, grabbing the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned red.
She put her hand on his shoulder, and smiled a smile as soft as sunrise. The car was cramped and small, but he managed to put his arms around her, and hugged her fiercely. She, in turn, put her arms over his back, sliding up and down, up and down, comforting him.

When he let go of her, he felt that his cheeks were wet. There was also this buzzing anger inside of him when he saw that her cheeks were quite dry, but he decided to let it go.
“I’ll write to you every day,” he said, “or at least every two days.”
She laughed.
“I’ll come visit. I promise” she said. And after a pause, added: “I wish things were different, but that’s how it is.”
“It’s okay, I understand.”
“I’m sorry if you’re hurting.”
“I’m okay.”
She studied him.
“Okay,” she said finally.
They sat in silence for a few seconds.
“I don’t wanna drive back to town,” he said. “I just wanna stay here with you.”
“We can stay for a little while longer. Mom’s doing most of the packing anyway.”
He smiled and leaned back, opening the window, saying,
“I’m suddenly hot. Go figure.”
He looked out. The moon was hidden behind a cloud.
“Can I ask you what you wished for?” He said.
“You’re not supposed to tell.”
“I know. But you won’t even tell me?”
“Okay, I wished the heating in your car will work.”
“You’re lying.”
“You got me.” she laughed.
“Come on!”
“Nope.”
“Alright, then. I don’t mind telling you what I wished for.”
“You wished that I won’t leave.”
“Am I that obvious?”
“You are.”
“Hmm… And you?”
She took a deep breath.
“Well, it already came true,” she said.
He seemed confused. “What do you mean?”
She shrugged.
“I wished to stay up here with you for just a little while longer.”

And a tear rolled down her cheek, just like a shooting star.

Riddles with frogs

A couple of weeks ago, during a hike deep in the city, I stumbled upon what could be termed as a “secret garden”. It was very different from the surrounding woods around it. A flat piece of land, with pools filled with lilies floating on the face of the water. Small bridges criss-crossed the water and lead up to a patch of land with low shrubbery.
A heavy rain has just fallen, and now the sun was coming out, along with most of the animals. Birds were flying low over the water, along with all kinds of insects buzzing around the reeds.
When I stepped in, I was the only person there.
Then I herd a strange noise. It sounded like an old man coughing. At first, I was startled. I looked around to see where the other person was “hiding”, but there was no one there. It was apparent that some kind of animal made that noise. The noises seemed to be coming from the edge of the pool. I walked down among the reeds and found the culprits. It was a bunch of frogs. They all squirmed away except for one, who stayed put, frozen like a statue.
You have to understand, that as memory serves I have never seen a live frog in my life, and certainly not in nature. So I was very excited to see it. I took out my camera and took a few pictures from several angles, and the frog still didn’t move. It just stayed there, modeling for me.

So it was just me and the frog, on a wet patch of land near a pool, in a cool summer day after the rains.

And then, I had this uncomfortable feeling of being an invader. Since I was the only person there, and since I’m not a National Geographic photographer, I’m not used to interacting with animals in nature all by myself. I felt like somehow I was interfering with the sacredness of the place. Taking out my camera, pushing through the leaves, hunkering down, taking the pictures, making noises. Of course I shouldn’t have felt that way. Aren’t humans part of nature? That’s right, sometime we forget it, but we are. As long as we are being an organic part of any natural scene, we are usually welcome. Of course, most people don’t know how to do that. I took out my camera because I wanted to preserve the moment. But you can’t really preserve a moment. All you can do is create a visual memory. The moment is right there in front of you as it happens, and it should be cherished.

When was the last time you went to a zoo? People take out their cameras and are busy taking pictures about 90 percent of the time. The amount of energy they put into photographing the animals is much more than the amount of energy they put into looking at them, actually watching them. They’re too busy creating the visual memory than to actually experience it. I see excessive photographing like this as an offshoot of Western consumerism mentality. We want to “buy” the moment. We want to capture it, put in a little box so we can watch it later – or not. Sometimes, people just take tons of pictures because they can. They have the gadget, don’t they? It’s digital, right? Don’t need to save film with that, you can easily take 400 pictures, so they use it. But it’s an illusion. You can’t save a moment in a little box. It’s already gone before you know it. That’s why it’s so precious.

Being there, in front of the frog, I tried to spend more time actually watching it than photographing it. Between each click I stared at it, looked at its eyes, it’s glands, its yellow mouth.

It was beautiful.

And then it struck me. I’m the only one here, I thought. Except for me, it’s just the animals and the plants. But what if I wasn’t here? Would it still be same? Would there still be frogs? Would the ground still be wet? Would the reeds still be yellow and green?
The minute I stepped into the garden, it became a “garden”. The minute I saw the frogs they became “frogs”. But there was no garden or frogs before I arrived there. It was all just there, existing, being, but it didn’t have any labels attached to it. As humans, we created a set of labels, that sometimes prevents us from seeing the big picture which is always the more real one. Of course, it’s very hard for us to do it any other way. When we see a frog, then it’s a frog. That’s what it’s called. But is it really a frog? Try and say the word “frog” many times one after the other. If you do that (as with any other word), it will lose its meaning and become nothing more than noise. So when a human steps into a situation where a human did not exist before, the situation becomes labeled. It all goes back to that famous riddle:

If a tree falls in the the forest, but there’s no one there to hear it, does it really make a sound?

If I would’ve tried and come up with an answer, then it would be probably be “of course not”, or maybe “it creates sound waves, not sound”. But incessantly looking for answers is another labeling process. The mind wants to understand everything. Sometimes a riddle is much better than any given answer. It opens up many possibilities, while an answer only leaves one.

As we all know, reality is subjective. We perceive the world trough out mind and through our senses. What we see as one thing, is another thing altogether for other creatures that share our world with us. Many of them we can see, but it is also very possible that many we cannot. The world, and the universe, I think, operates on many many levels, and we, as humans, can only comprehend a small part of it.

That is why we should be aware of the labeling process we as humans have. Not only towards nature, but towards other people too. Imagine, if there were no labels, there would be no judgmental thought. Then there would be no hate, no wars, and much less violence in our world. Imagine a world where blacks would not have been feared and hated just because of the color of their skin, or a world where Jews would not have been sent to extermination camps because they were considered “impure” by the horrendously effective Nazi labeling machine.

It is important, for each and every one of us, to be aware that there are many layers to everything in life. It is much reacher then our minds can ever perceive. If we see it solely through the mind’s labeling process, we are missing all the possibilities that this same labeling prevents us from seeing. The world was here before we emerged as a species, and will probably still be here after we’re gone. We should respect it as our home, and we should respect the ones who share it with us – plants, animals and other people. Words are a means of communications. A means to understand the world. But they are not all there is. Beyond the words there’s a vastness of beauty and life that we are ignoring too many times because we’re too busy turning it into something that we can comprehend mentally. Something that we can call by a name. So we can have an opinion.

This post, as is the custom in blogs, will be labeled like crazy. Tags, categories, you have it. This is how the system works. Internet is information, and information is made out of labels.
Because if a post is written, but there’s no one there to read it, was it really ever written?

Indeed, something to ponder…..

Free Your Mind

Recently I came across a very interesting and profound book called The Power Of Now. It was written by a man named Ekhart Tolle and its basic premise lies in its straight-to-the-point title. If we seek peace, we must live in the present.

Many of the ideas I’ll be throwing out here are derived from this book, (which is highly recommended – the author, unlike other spiritual teachers, had an intense personal experience that is the beginning of a journey which led to this book), but also from my own experiences. One important thing to note is that I am far from mastering what I am about to describe – years of egoic pre-conditioning and mind chatter are hard to dissolve in a day – but just being aware of the possibility is a big step in the right direction.

I had my own personal wake-up call in the winter of 2008. Long story short, I had anxiety attacks. Scary stuff. After a few trips to the ER I was referred to a neurologist. She performed a neurological examination, then proceeded to pick up the phone and register me – without even asking, thank god – to something called the Mindfullness Stress Reduction Program.

In this program I first became aware of the basic concept of Mindfullness, which is just another word to describe the act of “being in the moment”. It can be done through formal meditation, but also during ordinary activities such as taking a shower, walking, listening to music, swimming, washing the dishes. Anything really. As long as your mind is not busy with constant thoughts, with mental noise, you’re doing it right. When we are busy with constant thoughts, we usually think about past and future. Past memories are fine, but the dysfunction sets in when we replay events from the past and find ourselves in it, identifying with it, letting it inform our present, usually in a negative way. We create a pre-conditioning which inhibits us and prevents us from tapping into the power of the present moment – from experiencing it fully and seeing it clearly for what it is. As far as future goes, we usually fantasize/worry about it. This is also irrelevant to the present moment, and creates anxiety.
A healthy use of past and future is when it is done for practical purposes: If we need to be somewhere tomorrow morning, we might need to think about setting the alarm clock. Or, let’s say a week ago we forgot to set the clock, so we might think about the past in practical terms: “A week ago I forgot to set the clock. I better not forget this time”.

One way to visualize this is to imagine a large room in our heads. Now, this room is pretty cluttered. There’s junk everywhere. Old stuff, from the past. Let’s call them “Old Magaiznes”. And then there’s those still empty, “plastic receptacles”, that for our purpose will represent the future. Other than those, there are the “pain-bodies”. Negative emotions stored in our bodies and in our psyche. Emotions we failed to face in the Now, i.e, in real time, and ever since then we’ve been harboring them inside, letting them fester. Let’s say the “pain-bodies” are represented by a green, icky mold covering the walls and the floor. Usually we don’t pay attention to it, because the clutter in the room obscures it from us. But once in a while, something happens in the outside world which triggers it, and then, the mold crawls out among the old magazines and empty receptacles and demands notice. It wants to take over the room. Sometimes it succeeds and covers everything. That means we get deeply depressed, agitated, sad, angry, afraid, jealous. You get the picture. Then this matter subsides, and the mold retreats, letting the magazines and the receptacles fill the room again.

Our real self has nothing to do with mind and constant thoughts – it is the room without all the clutter, or actually, the room with neat shelves which contains jars where we store practical, useful mind-objects. That way we can use the mind without it using us. If we could just do it, if we could get rid of all the mental and emotional excess and just see the room as it is, in its natural state, the way it was supposed to be, we would be free of negativity and fear, and we will know peace and joy. We will know what it truly means to be alive. No pre-conditions. No judgments. Just Being.

The best way to even having a small chance of achieving this state of higher consciousness is, apparently, to live in the present as much as possible. To be attentive and alert, to accept it, to yield to it. To respond rather than react. To leave all drama and conflict behind – especially conflict with ourselves, which is the most destructive – and is the catalyst for most external conflicts.

There’s nothing new in The Power of Now. The same fundamental truths were part of ancient eastern wisdom (the Tau is another word for Being), and were preached by Jesus and Buddha. It is the same spiritual principal that exists throughout human history.
These are all different words to describe the same thing. We cannot grasp it mentally, and we mustn’t attach too much importance to words. Words are just signposts to show the way. But in the end, this state of consciousness can be only felt, not understood and labeled mentally. I mean, it can, but then you’ll be missing the whole point.
I had a glimpse of this state of connectedness to the state of Being/Presence back when I was in New York. It was one of the most profound moments of my life. That is why I know it exists. That is why I know there is more than mental noise in the human experience.

Only a truly “enlightened” man/woman can get rid of all the clutter in the room. Most of us can’t do it, at least for now. But there is a way to maybe make it easier. Let’s imagine we can project a duplicate of ourselves into this room. It will look like us, but it will shine with white light, or blue light, or whatever light you wish. And this conscious personification of us will stand guard in the room, and watch and observe. And whenever our mind starts getting really entangled with all the riveting drama in those old magazines from the past, our little luminous angel in the corner will first cough politely, and if that doesn’t help, if our stalwart reader is still with his nose deep in the magazines, the luminous figure might say: “Hey, you. Yes, I’m talking to you. I see you there, sitting there, indulging in the past. You can go ahead and knock yourself out, but just know that you’re not allowed to be in this room anymore by yourself, I will always be here, watching you”. The idea is that the minute the pre-occupied past-reader hears the voice and sees the presence, it will wake up from its trance and vanish from the room, back to the present moment which is taking place right here, right now, outside of the room, outside of the head.
The same principal can be applied to thoughts about the future. Whenever our smarmy little ego is not happy with the present and sneaks out into the room to fill those receptacles with fine scenarios/fantasies/wishful thinking, all kinds of chocolates that are insubstantial because they are just a projection and can melt and transform in any moment, or if he’s just staring at those receptacles, worried what to fill them with, the guardian will be there, watching him, jerking him back to the present.
And perhaps more importantly, whenever the mold, or the pain-body, begins to crawl again all over the room to make us miserable, we will let it crawl but we will watch it. We will not leave the room unobserved. We will watch the mold crawl and say: “I see you. I feel you. I acknowledge you, but I will not let you take over my mind and my body and my behavior and my identity.” We accept the pain instead of resisting it. It is not for the faint of heart, but if you can master it, if you can face deep-seated pain, especially when triggered violently, you have transcended and escaped the vicious cycle of emotional pain.

All our pain and suffering stems from neediness. I want. I need. If I’ll have this or that or this person, then I will be happy. But those are powerful illusions, because all you need, all you desire, well, you already have it. And the rest is just a game. Life is a stage, and we’re all actors. The secret is to actually experience it. Consider: when you don’t identify mentally with anything, when there are no attachments. When there are no attachments borne out of need, how much more simple and easy life would be.
But then, where would the ego be without the drama?

The answer is that it wouldn’t be. Just Imagine. A world without ego. No wars. No violence. No destruction of nature. Just us, Human Beings, not separate of the world and the universe but a part of it, connected to it, feeling the pulse of the cosmos inside us.

Once you are aware of this principal, you start noticing it around you where you didn’t see it before. I am currently reading a book called The History of Western Philosophy and find that many philosophers of ancient times incorporated these ideas into their teaching. You also begin seeing it in art, in certain movies (I hope to have a post soon about movies which include these ideas), and elsewhere.
If you want to have a perfect example of stillness in the present, all you need to do is watch animals. Animals always live in the Now. I actually recognized it in my (then) cat a few years ago, although I couldn’t really explain why I envied her so much. Or why I felt at this moment to in tune with her, and why all I wanted to do is pick her up and hug her. It was because she showed me presence, while I was sitting there, sulking, she showed me the way out.

And if I can turn mushy for a second, this is actually what Love is. “What the world needs now is love sweet love”. Remember that song? Truer words were never spoken. This is not the “love” that is created by the ego: a love that can turn into hate and jealousy and despair and un-love when things aren’t going right or when we feel threatened. This is the true love that has no opposite. To know that we are not adrift in an uncaring universe, but a part of it, a part of the same energy source that created everything around us, plants and animals and even rocks. Yes, one of the best ways to experience this state to some degree is to go out to nature, with no distractions (leave the i-pod at home), and just pay attention.

And by the way, the person writing this words is a great cynic who used to stay far away from anything that smacked of “universal love”. I just came to a point in my life where I recognized the truth in it.

The Watermills

Sometimes things in life converge in a peculiar way. For the past few weeks I’ve been practicing, or attempting to practice, some  forms of meditation to help alleviate stress and anxiety.  Stress and Anxiety which stem from personal difficulties, but also, I’m quite sure, from the nature of the actual world we live in. A world that puts first and foremost the constant striving for success and achievement, both personal and professional. The constant comparing with people around you, are they happier than you, do they have more money than you, are they in better shape than you. You find it almost impossible to just exist in your own skin without going all over the place and compare, judge and critique. The mind, the modern western mind, is in constant chatter. It always has something to say, and at least for me, most of the things it has to say aren’t really positive or nice. It reminds me of what I can’t do and what Iwas never able to do, no matter how much I tried. It lives almost exclusively in the past or the future, and almost never in the present.

So it was interesting to me, specifically in a time like this when i’m trying to subdue the mind-chatter by meditation (and mostly not succeeding for now, but at least I think I understand the concept), that I happened to watch Akira Kurosawas’s Dreams. Now, I hope I don’t need to mention that, but Kurosawa is one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived and Dreams is one beautiful, mesmerizing film. It is made up of eight stories that represent, well, dreams. But those are not the dreams of The Sopranos for example (which if you ask me are more “realistic” portrayal of how actual dreams unfold) but a more subdued version, more like surreal short stories. The main theme of the film, as I see it, is of celebrating life and nature and it has a major criticism against science and technology as harbingers of pollution and misery. Of course, it is not technology itself but what Man does with it, which means this is ultimately a film about the spirit of man and its capability to create and destroy at the same time.

But the film is so visually breathtaking, and so slow and deliberate in its presentation (this is most certainly NOT a Hollywood action film), that,  if you’re in the right mindset for it- and after three weeks of partial-meditation I sure was – you may be rewarded by something which is akin to a meditative state. This film is magical.

It was exactly what I needed to see right now since it complemented perfectly my state of mind or rather the state of mind I was trying to achieve. There is something at the same time soothing and frightening in it. For some of the segments are truly beautiful and serene (Crows, The Peach Orchard) but some are grim and scary (The Blizzard, Mt. Fuji  in Red). In the end, I was especially struck by the final segment, titled Village Of The Watermills. It takes place in one of the most beautiful locales I have ever seen. I find it hard to believe a place like this can actually exist. It looks like paradise and not in the commercial, cliched way –  an island with white sands and palm trees – but actual paradise, the real one, up in heaven. It consists of a conversation with an old man followed by a rather joyous funeral procession filled with song and dance and I almost cried with the beauty of it all, and wished I could visit it.

The Village of the Watermills seems like a manifestation of what your own self should ideally feel like when you’re in a meditative state: Serene, peaceful, with nothing of the outside world barging in on you. A place which exists only for itself and which represents your inner being, after all the clutter and noise and bullshit of the modern world is swept aside.

At the end it’s just us and nature, from which we came and to which we return, and if we try and remember that, remember what the important things are, we may be in peace.

I think most of us deserve it.