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.

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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.

When saving the world was simpler

adventures-of-captain-marvelRecently I watched my first ever bona fide serial, Adventures Of Captain Marvel, which is actually the first time a comic book super hero was shown on screen. 12 chapters full of hair-raising adventures and ridiculous plot, and this serial, considered one of the finest ever made, sure gave me appetite for more.

Serials were short programs which ran in American cinemas during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s before the main feature, just to wet the audience’s appetite. They usually had between 12 to 15 chapters and each chapter ended with what came to be known as a “cliffhanger”, a situation which left our heroes in some nasty trouble, and if you wanted to know how they escaped it you had to watch the next chapter.  A synonym for a serial is a “chapterplay”.
Indiana Jones and Star Was were hugely influenced by the old serials, and those movies in turn gave rise to a host of imitators and countless other pop culture phenomenon like the Lara Croft game series, for example.

The Sylvester Stallone film Cliffhanger has nothing to do with serials, though.

I sit and ponder (as I am fond of doing) the naivety of the old serials. Just like a child, the art of film was in its infancy back in those days. Today, especially following films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, it’s hard to imagine a superhero story which concentrates solely on action and doesn’t bother at all with inner conflict of any kind or different shades of gray. AOCM tells the story of Billy Batson who, after a meeting with an old Siamese wizard (don’t ask) gets the power to turn into Captain Marvel in times of distress and danger. All he needs to do is say the word Shazam aloud and puff! Captain Marvel appears to save the day.
If this story would’ve been done today, surely the writers would have explored the way Billy Batson handles life with an alter ego about three feet taller than him and wearing tights. What does this do to his ego, to his social life? Does he see the world differently as Captain Marvel? What are the psychological ramifications of this new change in his life?

But do we really want to know all this? Let me quote Lt. Bookman from the classic Seinfeld episode “The Library”: “I remember when the librarian was a much older woman: Kindly, discreet, unattractive. We didn’t know anything about her private life. We didn’t want to know anything about her private life. She didn’t have a private life.”

This serial’s aim is to deliver escapism. In some ways, it makes it endearing and most importantly, fun. After being used to complex storytelling in film and especially TV, there’s something refreshing about it in a dated sort of way. Nothing is too complicated. There are one dimensional bad guys and one dimensional good guys and they all beat the crap out of each other. And the bad guys are great. Fantastic villain and superb evil henchmen. And when you’re doing a superhero adventure, it’s only as good as your villains. Some great stunts and effects in this one – this serial, done in 1941, preceded the famous Superman serial by eleven years – and Captain Marvel is no Superman, and I mean it in a good way. There’s a scene in which he grabs a machine gun from a couple of Bad Guys. When they turn to flee he… are you ready? Shoots them in the back! Yeah, he’s not superman. He’s mean and violent, he cracks their heads and throws them through windows. He’s almost like Superman would’ve been if he was Batman.

So I miss it sometimes. I miss simplicity. Really, being an adult is so complicated these days. Everything is so fucking complicated. One of the reasons I love old adventure films so much is because many of them were so straightforward.  In this day and age that wouldn’t fly (pun intended). We have become much more cynical, jaded and sophisticated viewers, just like the world we inhabit.

True, many of the old serials have retained their nostalgic value and not much else, but still, AOCM has a place in film history just for the reasons mentioned above. Its influence, and serials’ influence in general, can still be felt in current Hollywood popcorn movies.

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.

Canadian For Beginners

If you are coming to the great and wonderful land of Canada you should learn to communicate with the locals. It’s not easy sometimes, and most times it’s frustrating, but still, once you get the hang of it you’ll be like a fish in Lake Ontario.

I have been here for almost two years now and have compiled a short thesaurus to help you navigate the rough waters of Canadian lingo*:

“It’s cool with a nice breeze” – It’s cold and windy.

“It’s cold” – It’s freezing.

“It’s freezing” – You better leave for the equator.

“It’s hot” – It’s rainy

“It’s rainy” – It’s hot

“What are you doing tonight?” – Wanna go have a drink?

“We need to talk”  –  Wanna go have a drink?

“God, I’m won’t finish this before seven” – Wanna go have a drink after seven?

“I’m unhappy” – Wanna go get drunk together?

“I’m happy” – Wanna go get drunk together?

“I Love You” – Let’s go have a drink in a really nice place.

“Let’s have sex” – Let’s go have a drink in the nude.

“You guys want more beer?” – Beat it or pay up.

“Can you split the bills?” – It’s not like splitting the atom, you know.

“Oh, I’m sorry” – Oh, I’m sorry you stepped on my leg by mistake.

“I apologize” – I apologize, I didn’t notice you pushed me.

“Next stop College street” – You will all be able to breathe soon. (this is more of a Toronto speak, actually).

If you know of more Canadian speak please feel free to add it!

*This list is based upon findings in the Province of Ontario. I wouldn’t count on it being relevant in Quebec. They all speak French there. Not to mention British Columbia, where they all speak British.

Bring back the DVD Movie Guide

The DVD Movie Guide is/was a fat book full of short film reviews, with ratings which range from Turkey (really really bad) to five stars. The formal purpose of the book was to help in the decision which movies to rent or buy, but it also served as an indispensable pool of film knowledge, especially thanks to its director/cast indexes, where you could look up who did what and with whom. This was especially helpful in the pre-Internet age, and here lies the rub.

After 22 years the DMG’s publisher, Random House, decided to discontinue the book, citing the internet as the main reason for that. The logic behind it was that since we can find all film information on the net, nobody needs this book anymore. Right?

Wrong.

The DMG was a special book. I’ve been buying and reading it since 1993, when it was still called Video Movie guide. What made the DMG great wasn’t the indexes – those did lose their relevance in the age of IMDB, although it’s still fun to check them out just sitting on a couch with the book at hand, and I still do it from time to time with my old copies – No, the reason was pretty simple: The reviews.

The DVD Movie Guide was always a no-nonsense, down to earth, film review book, with honest, insightful and sometimes damn funny – reviews. While other film reference tomes of its kind, most famous being the Leonard Maltin guide, mainly review films from a critical, even snobbish point of view, what made the DMG special was it being a movie review book by moviegoers for moviegoers. By saying that I don’t mean that the reviews were written lazily or information was partial and wrong, I’m saying the entire approach in reviewing films was that all films no matter their genre, no matter who made them, no matter their subject matter, all deserved a fair chance. What made this book close to my heart was the almost perfect synch it had with my taste. I rarely go wrong by watching a film recommended by this book. that’s not to say that it was always prefect (you can’t honestly except a 100 percent anywhere in life). Few films which received five starts weren’t that perfect in my eyes, and  some films which got two starts deserved better, I thought (that’s where the “guilty pleasure” discussion comes in. On the other hand, a turkey is almost always a turkey). But for the most part I almost always agreed with their reviews.

There are so many movies out there, so when you find a reliable film guide you should hold on to it and treasure it. It becomes your best friend. It helps you separate the good from the bad and it helps you save time. And one more thing, perhaps the most important: What the DMG or any self-respecting film guide does best is not to tell you Casablanca is good and Ishtar is bad. You knew that already. What it needs to do is help you DISCOVER those films you never heard of or thought they were lousy just because of  prejudice or because you didn’t like the poster or the trailer. Not too long ago I persuaded friends to watch the wonderful Hot Fuzz. They weren’t too enthusiastic about it at the beginning. They never heard of the film before and the DVD art looked tacky. They thought it’s just a moronic comedy. Instead they discovered a clever, hilarious spoof of American action films and British rural mysteries. And that’s what DMG has done for me time and time again. Helped me discover those gems that I never heard of or didn’t much care for.

The DMG was edited and partially written by Mick Martin and Marsha Porter. They were assisted by a hardy group of film reviewers. (just like the Maltin guide. Although his face is on the cover, he cannot review everything by himself ). So it’s amazing that DMG managed to stay so consistent over the years. That’s what I call great editing, and the kudos here go to Mick and Marsha.

I had a short e-mail correspondence with Mick Martin where he explained to me what happened. DMG was discontinued on September 2006, right around the time when the last edition was published. He and Marsha tried their best to find another publisher but to no avail. DMG has its fans. People want it back. The decision to cancel it, while Maltin’s and other yearly review books keep being published is a real shame.

They’ve cancelled the best film reference book out there.

I don’t know if there was decline in sales. I don’t know if it’s for other reasons. I just know that the reason Random House gave Mick Martin was “because you can get it for free on the Internet”. I’m a heavy Internet user. I spend a lot of hours on-line, whether it’s at work or at home, and unless you’re a webmaster and that’s your job, I don’t think anyone ruins his posture in front of a computer more than I do. And if I’m ready to keep buying the DMG than I can’t imagine anyone else not doing the same thing.

“You can’t stop progress”, someone might say. “Books are a way of the past”, someone else might add. Well, screw that. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Kindle).

DMG writers used to do something unique (at least as far as I know): Although it was extremely rare, from time to time they used to change a movie’s rating, their reasons being because times change, points of view change, or maybe a “movie just caught us on a bad day”. It’s a remarkably humble statement for a “critical” reference book.

Too bad Random House won’t do the same for them.

Any other publisher out there? Come on, people.

We’ll give you five stars,

No flying cars

2009 is here, and there are still no flying cars to be found anywhere. How disappointing. Other than that, things are par-for-the-course for the human race. You’ve probably heard about all of it already. Economy in depression, first black president etc etc. (Go Obama).

Sadly, everything is also par-for-the-course in my homeland, where Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed the new year with a new mini-war.  We bombard them with big missiles and they respond with small but persistent missiles. (they started it though. The whole thing is very childish in essence). Half a million Israelis are in the line of fire, including members of my family. I wish I was wrong, but I do believe there is no real military solution for this unending conflict. Israel’s greatest military triumphs were always when it was the underdog, attacked by two or three armies, significantly outnumbered. As in the War Of Independence and the Six Day War. On the other hand, whenever it was the big and strong IDF against terrorists, the result was usually bloody and frustrating without real victories achieved. That is because an army is ill-equipped to handle guerrilla warfare, as history showed us again and again.
The same goes for the current round of blows. Although we are fighting a vicious terrorist organization hiding among innocent civilians, the mere fact that we attack it with fighter airplanes immediately puts it in the underdog position, which is just plain wrong. The solution should and must come through political and international channels and the only way this could ever happen is if we’ll have brave politicians from both sides who will truly want this mayhem to stop.
Don’t hold your breath, though.

I sure yearn for the age of the flying car. For me, it was always a representation of a smoother, utopian future. Huge skyscrapers towering and the sun is setting behind them, and streamlined, silent, flying cars swish between them like graceful ballerinas. But I’ve come to accept reality. It’s more likely that we won’t have cars at all in the future than flying cars. And hey, I’m pro-environment, so there.

In a screenplay I’m working on right now, which takes places in the early years of the 22nd century, there are no flying cars to be found at all. Instead, I’ve extrapolated on the future use of cell phones, the Internet and first aid kits. Oh, and nobody wears glasses anymore. But flying cars? Give me a break. It’s not safe anyway. How is that supposed to work? will we have lanes and exits in midair? Just think of the headache that will cause people living in penthouses. You live on the 80th floor and there’s a traffic jam outside your window. Ouch.

It makes me sad that Israel is the only democracy in the world which still has military conflicts at its borders on a regular basis, with direct influence on civilian population. Sure, the US, along with other western nations, is engaged in a conflict in Iraq, but those wars aren’t fought in the US or Canada or the UK or France. People don’t need to go to shelters. As a result, and although Israel is one of the leading nations in cutting edge scientific research in the world  – if you were an alien landing here and you watched the media the immediate impression you would get about Israel is that while the other nations’ attention is spent on things like global warming and recycling and stem cell research, and, well, cutting-edge science, Israel is still knee deep in war and destruction, like time just froze for us back in the 1970’s. What’s the solution? there’s no easy solution. It’s just the way things are, and it’s not looking like they’re going to change soon.

Would that same hypothetical alien be surprised to find out people are not using flying cars in the 21st century like they do on his home planet? Maybe. Maybe not. What will he report back to his Mother Ship when landing here on  the morning of the first day of 2009? I think it will go something like this:

“Have initiated first contact with a peculiar life form. Its speech is slurred and its vomiting all the time. It keeps saying something that sounds like  “hangover”. All in all, it doesn’t look too impressive. Apparently it thinks its imagining me. How very peculiar. And insulting, I might add.” And then he will just swish away in his small aircraft and mutter to himself about setting his expectations too high.

Join the club, brother.

Perfect Day

This was it. It was now or never (well, probably not, but he always had a flair for the dramatic).

She was sitting at her desk, her eyes glued to the computer, her hand moving the mouse left and right, up and down.
She paid no attention to him.
Her hair was dark and long and curly, strands of it falling and covering her left eye.
She twisted her lip and puffed some air up and the renegade curl flew away.
His heart skipped a bit.
He said:
“Hey”.
She tilted her head and saw him. Her eyes were brown and large. How he loved those eyes of hers.
“Hey!” She replied, leaning back and stretching her fingers. “God, this report is a pain in the ass”.
“So take a break”.
“Yeah, I guess I should. What’re you up to? Still with the fall paperwork?”
“Yeah”. He said.
“Poor guy”.
“Oh, that’s alright”.
Ok, enough with the damn small talk.
“Listen, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you”.
“Hmm..?
“Would you like to… you know… go out and do something togeter? Maybe this Saturday?”
She looked at him with her big eyes. His heart sank for a minute.
This can’t be a surprise to her, he thought. The way he’s been talking to her, the way he’s been trying to be close to her, she must know that he likes her more than just a friend. She must.
“Sure” she said.
He felt a smile appear on his face, widening and widening. He felt himself turn into the Cheshire Cat.
“Great!” He said.
“What did you have in mind?” She asked.
“Mini Golf? At The Grover Grounds? On Saturday”
“Yeah, sure”.
“Then we can go to Kiki’s”.
She smiled again.
“Listen” she said, “Lets talk later. I have to get back to this damn report”.
“Yes” he said, “Yes. Okay, so… thanks. I mean, good.”
She laughed.
“You’re funny”.
He went back to his cubicle, but there was no chance he could focus on his work today.
No chance in hell.

Saturday morning was beautiful and sunny. They met at the entrance to the Grounds and played till 11:30. He won, but it wasn’t really important. He helped her choose her clubs and aim. She let him hold her arms and guide her. It was wonderful to touch her, to smell her. His whole body and mind were on a natural high.
Then they went into town and he bought her ice cream. She laughed at his jokes. At some point she held his hand.
They talked about all kinds of stuff, sitting in the park eating their ice cream. They talked about what movies they last saw, about the wonderful weather in this April day – as if god arranged it just for them after a week of rains. They talked about his family and her family, about life in a small town and their dreams of getting out. They talked about books and music and cats. They both loved cats.

They didn’t talk about work at all. Not even one bit.

After the ice cream they didn’t feel like lunch so they went to the Gladstone Theater instead to catch the 4:30 show.
He couldn’t beleive his luck. They showed Casablanca.
When they went back out into the street (part of them still in the black and white wonder), they needed a few seconds to adjust. He felt like he’s hovering a few feet above the ground.
But it was getting dark.
And they were tired.

Her place was just a few blocks away and he walked her there.
When they got to the walkway in front of her house, she turned to him and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
“Thank you” she said. “I had  a wonderful, wonderful time”.
“It’s me who should thank you” he said. “thank you for a perfect day”.
“It was great, wasn’t it?” She said.
The sun was setting, making their shadows growing longer and thinner on the pavement.
Then he leaned and kissed her. She let him.
He held her tight.
“Yes, it was wonderful” he said. “Let’s do it again soon”.
“No” she said.
He let her go and looked at her, befuddled.

“I’d have to say no” she said from behind her desk. She wasn’t really smiling anymore. And she did act surprised, for some reason.
“Ah, okay”. He blurted.
She went back to her computer.
“I just thought I’d try, you know. You only live once”.
“Yeah, I know” she said. This time she smiled, but it wasn’t the smile he was looking for. “But it’s still no, okay?”
“Okay” he said. He kept standing there for a few seconds as if someone poured concrete on his shoes, but she didn’t look at him.

It was as if he wasn’t there.

He turned and slowly went back to his cubicle.
It was longest walk of his life.
He felt eyes looking at him. But they couldn’t have heard the conversation, could they? Could they?
He sat back on his chair ans stared at his computer.
He would keep staring at it until it was time to go home.

Home.

The weatherman on TV said that the rains will be over by the weekend.

He said Saturday will be sunny and warm.

He said it’s going to be a perfect day.

Make ’em laugh

Getting ready for my screening at WILDsound Film Festival in Toronto, I started to think how nerve-wrecking it is to do a comedy compared to all other film genres.
With comedy, the rules are simple. If the audience don’t laugh, you’re screwed.
If you do a drama, a horror film, an action-adventure, you usually never know if your film worked until the credits start to roll. Then, either people clap, or boo, or couldn’t care less. You may know if it worked by talking to the audience, by looking at their faces or listening to their conversations when they’re leaving the theater, but comedy is the only genre where you absolutely know if your film worked WHILE it is shown.

But does a comedy HAVE to make you laugh to be considered successful?

Well… Yes.

I’m the first one to admit that my film, Hype, is not a laugh-a-minute-riot, nor is it a slapstick comedy or a comedy of errors. Instead, it relies on a certain punchline to deliver the laugh.
Whenever I watch it with a group of people I always get very anxious at the end, because i know that if people don’t laugh now, the film didn’t work for them.
So tonight, watching Hype with the (hopefully) largest audience I ever had for it, I feel excited but mostly anxious. You sit there and you know that if people won’t laugh, your film is a misfire, a dud, a waste of space. A comedy is meant to make people laugh through satire, irony, black humor, slapstick. Like every good film, it needs to say something about life and the world we live in, about the characters, and it needs to do so in a way that makes you laugh. Maybe not all the way, but I believe a good comedy has to have at least one big laugh proportional to its length.

Woody Allen made some great comedies. Some of them were funnier than others. Bananas and Love and Death were ribald and crazy. Radio Days and Mighty Aphrodite were much more subtle. All of those films made you laugh at one point or another. But while Allen’s first films are considered his funniest, his later comedies are considered to be more deep, more rounded and profound. They are more about something, while his early spoofs are more like 90 minute sketches.

But they are all comedies, and they all work in their own way. I love comedies such as Take The Money And Run and Airplane because I love nonsense humor, but I also admire comedies that are more mature. There’s a lot of leeway inside the genre confines, but the rule always stays the same:

Your audience needs to laugh. And laugh for the right reasons, too.

A comedy can sometime tickle your funny bone without causing you to burst uproariously with laughter. There are countless examples of that. But as I’ve said, it’s not enough. If you strive for a comedy, you need those laugh-out-loud moments. Because what comedy filmmaker would want to sit at a screening of his film and have everyone chuckle inside for 90 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 5 minutes?

No, when we do a comedy, we want to make ’em laugh.

And we will sit in the dark and hold our breath until then…