Friday, July 1, 2016

Betty Reid Soskin has something I want

I do not know what I can learn from this sickening atrocity, or how I will love my life, spend this day, and also deal with these feelings of sadness and rage. But I am beginning to know what I might learn from Betty Reid Soskin, the person. I did not even know this woman existed--this 94 year old park ranger, the world's oldest park ranger. When I read her story, and how she escaped, locked herself in bathroom, plugged in an iron and stood ready to brand the bastard--I knew she had courage. Not a survivor!!! But a liver and lover of life and justice! An exemplar of compassion and wisdom. read her amazing blog. Looking on her most recent Facebook post, I saw evidence of a world of support and love and appreciation--but also frightening hints that this is not just the random strike of a random devil, but a targetted hate crime and definitely a #blacklivesmatter issue of racist malice. Less than two weeks ago, she had been highly vocal about invasion of privacy and inappropriate feedback on social media, and she had been vocal about Orlando. And I know in my bones she will continue to be so. Some are more frightened and paralyzed by the aftershocks of trauma and violence than others, but this woman teaches me that fear will not be my master. And that wisdom is necessary--one can not go about spewing hatred and rage or venting one's emotions, but a true response is called for! And this is what she offers. This woman has lived her life in response to life--in response to the sickness and twisted ways of humans, as well as in response to the beauty and love of humans and nature. SHE HAS LIVED and LOVED. I do not know her faith or spiritual beliefs--but I would like to know, because I WANT WHAT SHE HAS. The most powerful thing I can do with my sadness and rage and sense of horror and powerlessness today --is not to preach to the choir or make idiot proclamations of what I will or should do, but to continue to live my life with love, gratitude and as much humility as I can muster. To say today that I stand with those who are marginalized and victims of hate and racism, not out of pity, but out of recognition and as a fellow human walking toward light and freedom. Betty Reid Soskin should be commemorated on a coin. They may have robbed her of her beautiful coin, but no one can steal one drop of the gold that she shares with others all day long.

Monday, February 29, 2016

In love with the most creative app Steller

Was dreaming of tiny cute books that somehow had video and sound samples and animations and stills, since a child. All my published books had some reference or reaching to this format and suddenly my friend told me about Steller.

Making these little books changed my life this week. One part of recovery is to share positivity --with yourself and others. It is so primal to share stories in circles of people.

I'm so grateful for this freedom to use what i have, and to be contained or called to rise to this simple,
beautiful format. A playground for visual storytellers!

The stories on the site are diverse--so many ways to tell a story...

I did a book about Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche blessing teddy bears in Woodstock...a book about about climbing a mountain...and also, books in honor of FASHION WEEK.

Making the books spurred me on to some crude animation techniques. Fun!

 This week I entered one of Steller's weekly theme challenges and suddenly am at the number 13 spot of all the books viewed this week!

it is definitely quite a matter of luck, but I'm still excited about it!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MarShawn McCarrel's Life and Death Matters

Honored three days before his death, at NAACP Image Awards
pictured with his mom

Reading about this freedom fighter today, I am gaining a picture of who MarShawn McCarrell was and what he worked for. His social media posts, specifically his Twitter feed in the weeks before his death, have told me more than the newspaper reports. His personal shares are heart -shattering in the context of his death, and as one progresses, undeniably chilling--not because we are seeing the progression of a man moving toward suicide, but because there is no clear and absolute sign it is to happen.

He speaks of getting a tattoo, of being in the mood to paint, of "wanting to record" when he returns from his trip, and he makes the sort of light jokes that one would not connect with a man who knew he was soon to committ suicide. His obvious and touching respect and consideration for his mom--and for all those he is fighting for--would be in direct opposition to giving up, let alone taking his life in a public place, so he was either a man in great conflict, or else it didn't happen like that.

  It would perhaps be understandable, but no less tragic, if his death were a statement of protest, but that wasn't his style. He valued life, including his own. Just look at the video produced by the organization he founded--or read his poems, and you will see the tone of hope and strength, and above all, action.

Untreated, or poorly managed mental illness has a power of its own that trumps all, this is true. But is it true that MarShawn McCarrel suffered from severe illness? If so, was it the sort of illness known to strike rapidly? One minute clear and lucid and the next ready to die.

Only his friends and associates would know whether he had a polar opposite side. To be either premeditating suicide, or to be seized with a sudden unstoppable urge--was that consistent with who this man was, or consistent with a known diagnosis?

It seems coincidental that yet another young activist who speaks out against others being shot down,  is himself shot down--supposedly by his own hand. I'm not hinting that there was no suicide, although strangely, there were no witnesses to a shooting that took place during rush hour.
Several reported being in the vicinity, at a bus stop, seeing the aftermath, but not the actual act.

I would imagine if he was of relatively sound mind, which he seemed to be, that a man who had devoted these past years to helping to build communities, feed communities and inspire and empower youth, a man who spoke of a spiritual life and seemed--(from all reports I have read)--to reach for one in daily life--that this man, even if he had good reason to die, would be blind-sided by despair and leave behind no note or else a heartfelt letter--the two cryptic lines on his final Facebook post is what sets off the most alarms--for me. Is that really what he would do and say? I would want to ask an expert psychiatrist if that seemed plausible, given his personality.

 Beyond that, he had much to live for. Days before he died, he and his mom had flown out and he was honored at the NAACP Image Awards. He had every reason to be proud. Of course, one who suffers from severe mental illness has times where all reason is crushed, and of course with severe mood swings, this can happen overnight. But again--conjecture.
Excerpts from twitter feed cut and pasted in chronological order

I feel this is a criminal case, because it is a criminal waste,  when a life filled with potential is snuffed out, a waste that warrants investigation into the motives and the means of this crime. I believe a true investigation, perhaps by objective journalists, would turn up a variety of system failures and human frailties as well as strengths. It would possibly turn up a multitude of causes, not the least of which were the threats he received and the barrage of notes from haters, one of which was also recently posted on Facebook.

A post on MarShawn's Facebook page less than 30 days before his death

He was dead less than a month after he posted this.  But of course, African American activists routinely get threats. And what if this constant aggression did not spur him on, but torment him, and contribute to any underlying mental health issues? Or is it possible that hatred kills. Because ultimately--it does.

A hero and lover of justice and equality, who is struck down by mental illness-- raises questions about mental illness and its treatment--or lack of treatment.  Further investigation--an perhaps open discussion, without stigma-- gives us the opportunity to educate ourselves, raise awareness and compassion--all of which leads to more intervention and treatment for those who suffer.

Is it any of our business? I think it is good to know why our fellow humans suffered so much that they had to die--good to know so we can rise, in any way to stop that suffering with our own efforts and choices, and by speaking out and helping out, in the most human and simple ways.

It is not a question of courage, pushing through or willingness to remain. It is possible he was tortured within--or even without. Sometimes the boundaries become unclear when in his line of work. Even the sanest, the bravest and the strongest are human.

How can we help him to rest in power and true peace? If the truth of how and why he died was discovered through inquiry and investigation, couldn't this lead to justice--and let him remain a hero to those who set out to help?

He believed in individuals and communities taking back their own power, and taking on responsibility for growth and transformation. To honor him, perhaps we can investigate our hearts, or do what he requested in his second to last Facebook post, which turned out to be his final request.

"Let's tell somebody from our neighborhoods that we love em."

Who killed MarShawn McCarrel?

This young activist was anything but a quitter.

He fought for justice and look how alive he was until he wasn't. He mentioned demons, and those who are awake and lovers of equality and freedom seem to have more than their share.

 What someone posts on twitter or facebook gives a fragment of the picture,
and so do their poems and their photographs.

The tweets of his last few weeks show someone young, powerful, thoughtful, hopeful, sensitive and at times haunted. But what was he haunted by and what took him out in the end? Could this have been seen or prevented?

I'm curious about what happened in his life between the late afternoon of  February 6, the entire day of February 7, and all the hours of the day of his death--as well as all of his life. There is something here that is worth not only honoring, but investigating.

On the surface, it is different from the outright racial hate crimes and murders, but what really pulled that trigger?  Where are the witnesses to his life and his death--and based on what they know, is his final post on Facebook plausible?

I do not know the whole story, but I'm going to keep my eyes and ears open, because I want to know the truth.

Friday, February 5, 2016

My secret relationship with Louis C.K.

If there were a make-a-wish foundation for adults, this would be my application to have Louis C.K. come to my bedside and say something heartfelt, but I’m not dying, I’m living today, and grateful to be here, and Louis C.K. is not a small part of why I am OK.

Anything new and fresh that I know about, I have my kids to thank for. Back in 2010, one of my daughters told me to check out his first show on TV, and again, his new show, the brilliant, and wickedly casted Horace and Pete,

Steve Buscemi (Pete) and Louis C.K. (Horace)

which is entirely his production and you can download it here.

I watched his first show when I was in the middle of an ordeal that began in 2010 and kept on going. It was somewhat biblical, and had the unmistakeable feeling of walking through a door and free-falling into a bottomless basement.

He had me at the opening credits. My heart lit up and I didn’t even have to know why. It was the way he ate pizza, everything about him and what he was doing.

I had become a Buddhist, so there were sometimes lamas and nuns at my house instructing me how to pray and deal with suffering. 

No one promised release, but there was often talk of transformation. One could transform suffering if one applied effort, and one could turn one’s suffering into benefit for other beings—also through effort. The essence of the teaching was to raise genuine compassion within, and develop wisdom through examination of one's habits and actions and thoughts, with willingness to drop the harmful ways and take up the good.

I admit I was filled with guilt, as are many at some point when trauma and calamity strikes. I was in a kind of prison, and wanting to get out forces you to try to be good. You look back, you can’t look forward, and you are trying to make sense of the senseless.

No therapist or teacher could help me with the guilt—but Louis C.K.  did. He made me feel like it was OK to feel what you felt, and that you could think and say the lowest most vile things and out of that same brain could come this soft, sweet heart that went on a trek to find the innocent baby duckling sweetness and gentleness, among other humans, that can exist, and he did that more than once. 

His shows were like symphonies or Miles Davis level jazz with all these dark currents, then spikes of wicked joy and sudden sweet cool notes.

I was sure if we met that we would marry. Although there was no sign of him liking anyone but short tough cookies or young sharp dark beauties, and I was neither.

If I could be well again we would certainly meet! I think I cried when my sister told me she was waitressing and he walked into her restaurant and sat at her table.

The doctors had no solution for me but a bottle of pain killers and I didn’t want to take them. Louis CK was my painkiller.

I forgot  my little and big miseries as I got to see his. I needed his honesty. It was a relief to laugh at the things most people keep inside and to know I wasn’t alone.

Some guy wrote on twitter that if you googled suicide prevention, the first thing that should come up should be Louis CK’s face.

I filled up the time between the weekly shows watching his old shows and routines on youtube.

Fast-forward six years and the worst of that time is over--and my relationship with Louis C.K. has matured. 

With Horace and Pete, he has for starters, this beautiful atmospheric soundtrack that Paul Simon wrote, that pulls you right into the tone of the show. It takes place all in a bar (so far) and there is a Jim Jarmusch kind of feeling in the way it is directed. The bar is so real and deja-vu familiar that you can smell the piss and beer and whiskey and antiseptic cleaner. But it has a majesty, it is not a dive bar but an institution still haunted with ghosts--living and otherwise.

It is like a stage set, and reminds me of the novelty of no-digital delay albums done all at once in a small venue--or of early television, like Jackie Gleason, except no studio audience.

There is a pervasive sense of hush, a richness or buffer that I can’t explain, a dimension of  solemnity that is in the atmosphere somehow. And it is a windowless place. Many sets are windowless, but this one is really windowless, with that sense of timelessness you only get in a bar—or some crazed film editor’s apartment with blacked out windows.

Beautifully filmed. Louis Ck’s casting choices are phenomenal, and the actors all have enough depth and chops to play way outside their normal range and at the same time bring
a seasoned presence that is SO present.  The New York Times called Alan Alda’s performance “brutally good.” And that is apt.

In keeping with the spirit of this C.K. production will not give away who is in the show or what they say, the culture clashes and political fires that occur, the subtle and brash exchanges between humans that C.K. handles with his singularly weird and divine mind.

He still shocks my world by presenting, in just a few exchanges between characters, some kind of previously unspeakable dilemma that I had until that very second hidden within, with great shame and zero hope of resolution.  His basic integrity in what he puts out there –in his work, at least—that deeply reassures me somehow. He casts light on the most paradoxical issues without neon arrows. He spreads the wealth-- as he widens his scope, by allowing his actors to voice  the forbidden things that he alone performed as a man up on a stage.

I had a lot of help and a lot of angels and heros in my life. I like the idea of transforming suffering, living with more genuine gratitude and sharing your experience so others can benefit.  Tall order to follow, unless you have examples who are not philosophers or saints.

When I was in trouble,  Louis did come to my bedside and say something heartfelt, every time I turned my computer on and sought him. He said come on,
this is bad, but it’s going to be OK. Just keep going, tell the truth and be yourself. And watch me fry up these doll eyeballs on Christmas because I have to give my kid that gift she expects.

This is the brand of compassion and wisdom I understand, and I thank Louis C.K.  for showing up and bringing it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sarah Palin game show: which president did she REALLY mean?

Palin recently denied to a TODAY news crew that she had issued a statement blaming her son's alleged PTSD on President Obama, a statement which was offensive to many Americans, but particularly some veterans.

Palin denies accusing Obama of causing her son's PTSD

Excerpt from an open letter from a decorated, Republican vet, Huffington Post:

Dear Mrs. Palin,

I am a former US Marine and US Navy Officer with a Combat Action Ribbon as well as service connected disabilities. I am also a Republican. I have also served with, and am friends with, dozens of combat veterans who suffer daily from various injuries and wounds to include PTSD. I recently read your comments related to PTSD in which you attempted to excuse your son’s arrest on domestic abuse charges and firearm charges by referencing his supposed PTSD. Based upon your previous comments I am not surprised that you would choose to use this very serious condition as a political football and, once again, attempt to divert blame from your own family’s abhorrent, violent behavior.

Track Palin arrested for domestic violence as Sarah Palin endorses Trump

In 2014 your entire family was involved in a late night ‘drunken brawl’ at a party in which Track Palin (the accused domestic abuser) was involved in a bloody fight. While you publicly stated how proud you were at your children’s violent actions, maybe this should have been a sign that Track has a problem. It is certainly curious that you did not feel the need to reference his supposed PTSD in this situation and instead stated: “…my kids’ defense of family makes my heart soar!” Maybe, instead of encouraging Track’s violence, you should have taken the opportunity to get him help. Maybe, instead of being the result of PTSD, your son was simply trying to uphold the stated Palin family values and “…make your heart soar” by abusing a woman.

Perhaps the issue is with Palin's grammar. It is entirely possible that she meant something other than the general interpretation. For example, when she said: "Everything starts at the top, and he's the president" she might have been referring to Bush, who was the president during her son's service, as she is wont to shift tenses mid-sentence, and does not obey the time/space continuum as ordinary folk. 

It would be interesting to have a sort of contest--or even a weekly game show, where bits of Palinese
were thrown up on a screen while top editors, linguists and English teachers race the clock to crack the code. 

Here is one expert's take on her first sentence, and the punctuation intended. We've left the rest untouched for you to ponder. 

"My son, like so many others, they come back  (came back) a bit different, (;)

they come back hardened, they come back wondering if there is that respect for what it is that their fellow soldiers and airmen and every other member of the military so sacrificially have given to this country. . .That comes from our own president, where they have to look at him and wonder, ‘Do you know what we go through? Do you know what we’re trying to do to secure America?. . .“Everything starts at the top and he’s the president. All you have to do is look at the Veterans Administration and look at the bad . . . care our vets get."

Check out the view from the View on this.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Concussion vs. Joy: Is it fair to compare?


Our nation's greatest heroes include our movie stars; therefore a nomination for Best Actor or Actress is like being nominated as a hero. Are we being told that this year we have no black heroes?A line from the movie Concussion:

“When I was a boy...heaven was here—and America was here. You could be anything, do anything...”

Will in Concussion

Except be nominated as best actor in a movie with a ground-breaking subject, if you happen to be Will Smith in the second all-white year of Oscars. Whoops! Ground-breaking subject matter never had anything to do with whether a movie is good or not. Yet, it never hurts, as long as the subject-matter does not outweigh the story and the integrity of the movie.

(Spoilers from start to finish.)

Yes, I too am blinded by the white this year, and not completely snowed by the authentic talent of  Jennifer Lawrence and all the other glowing white skins walking around in JOY.

Jennifer in Joy

Of course it’s not fair to compare Joy to Concussion, and ludicrous to compare Jennifer Lawrence's performance to Will Smith's, but what's fair got to do with it? 

The two movies have several things in common: 

1. Neither were nominated for Best Movie,  (in spite of the fact of having one-word titles, which seems to be a strong factor this year).

2. They both were based on factual stories.

The great playwright Paddy Chayefsky, who won an Oscar for best screenplay based on factual material, said that a writer should remove everything that has no relevance to the story and --
if there’s a gun in the first scene, it should go off by the last.

In Joy, we have the scene where a gun is initially mentioned, and later the scene where a gun is shot and  yet, by movie’s end, we’re still waiting for the real bang. In Concussion, Will Smith is the gun that appears in the NFL world and by the movie's end more than one gun goes off with tragic results. More than one player appears to have committed suicide due to the anguish caused by this disease. Backstory discussed in this thought-provoking Chicago Trib piece about the politics of sports and how Concussion factors in.

Joy is a hero movie—woman invents a mop 

the real Joy Mangano, who is played by Jennifer

and succeeds against all odds to have it manufactured and ultimately make a lot of money on it.

Concussion is a hero movie—a forensic pathologist 

Dr. Bennet Omalu, who is played by Will

discovers a dangerous and degenerative brain disease known as CTE in football players, and against all odds succeeds in naming the disease, making it known, which lead to the post-humous diagnoses of 87 of 91 former NFL players who had donated their brains to research.

There is no category of hero movies in the Academy Awards, and no actor has been nominated based on the social or political value of the movie he or she starred in. Yet, how many actors have been nominated for great performances in movies that are not worthy of a nomination. It is a given that a movie must have a certain amount of oomph, at least enough power to produce a role worth starring in.

Not every hero has to be a 

the movie Gandhi

Rosa Parks

It’s fine if the hero is a cartoon panda or an eighty year old human of any race, religion, sex or sexual preference in any state of mental or emotional or physical health.

I happen to like a hero movie where the hero becomes closer to his or her purpose, and as a result, to others; a door is opened that sometimes makes us feel redeemed for some of our own unsung efforts, or else opens a door for future courage—or simply makes us stand up and cheer, as one individual braves the world, and against all odds, succeeds.


This formula even applies to movies like Hangover 2—all the Jim Carey movies, and even the most obscure cult movies, from Donny Darko to Pee Wee’s Great Adventure to  Dancer in the Dark.

Both the Jennifer Lawrence character and the Will Smith character succeed through tenacity, and acts courage and by enduring. But I also want to see hearts grow, and the ways others are transformed around the hero, and what she or he brings to the world.

Joy brings a mop—and yes, a steely determination; but  for all Lawrence’s gifts, the script falls short of offering the source and visceral substance of this determination. It just comes upon her like a virus.

Too many devices and too little heartfelt emotion. Instead of a woman who was doing something for her kids as well as her own inner child—we more often see a narcissist and obsessive. Who is this cypher? If not for Jennifer’s soul what would this character be? It is often solely the actor who lends humanity to the work, rather than that divine movie magic we crave—where the actors mind mingles with the mind of the creator, or even the actual Joy who inspired this movie.

A movie maker has no responsibility except to have a vision and carry it out with integrity. Great movies never offer a dilemma and then gloss it over,  hoping it will pass as a nuance of human inconstancy or one of life’s ambiguities. It is not resolve that is called for, but integrity of vision, of story, of acting, of directing. Integrity and excellence allows for genuine ambiguity. All the elements in a winning movie serve the vision. The viewer’s disbelief is suspended from opening scene to closing credits—we are free to relax and trust rather than
use our brains to fill in the dots.

I just get the sense that there is more dirt underneath, hidden behind things, and some of it is good dirt, the fertile kind. We can’t wipe away our transgressions and issues of character with a bucket and mop, or fix them with a movie. I don’t want a movie to preach at me, or fix the world, but do not leap over serious issues with a wink and a nod, as if the cuteness of  the Focker /DeNiro character

Bonus quiz: is this Focker De Niro or Joy De Niro?

 will absolve him from hurling verbal abuse and shards of china throughout his family’s daily life. Do not expect me to believe that Joy maintains an otherworldly calm through every episode of disfunction in her family, or that the queer narration –( as intermittent as a weak radio signal)--of her grandma
forms the entire basis of her uncanny mental stability, until she cracks all at once and is seemingly relieved-- and begins her hero’s journey --all due to a vision induced by an overdose of expired children’s cough medicine. (although admittedly things like that have happened to me.)

Likewise, do not think the inclusion of a Hispanic friend, some warm and bubbly factory worker stereotypes and a strange plumber who shares bowls of weird substances with the character’s mom will cover all the bases of political correctness. After all, it is so hard to keep up with what’s correct these days! What—couldn’t squeeze a transgender person in there? To include a stereotype, a cardboard character who has no function beyond being a kind of placeholder for someone’s guilty conscience is as bad as profiling. 

Do we have Caucasian counterpart stereotypes in Concussion and times of bland characterization and overall arcs of less than substantial conflict where Smith must carry the day just as Lawrence does? You decide! 

Both Lawrence and Smith always or often bring it, because they are juicy humans and good actors. 
Never mind the critiques of same six expressions--they both have enough range and beauty to keep you watching and wanting to believe. But which do you believe more?

In the movie Concussion, in my opinion, the intense subject matter does not outweigh authentic character development, and hence allows the lead actor more breadth and depth of performance.

As for Joy, I am thrilled that a single mom with lots of bad breaks is celebrated for pushing through to believing in herself and her dreams and rising to success in spite of much adversity. As a subject-matter, it is potentially as powerful as any medical discovery--I only wish, in both cases, that the heroes behind these fictions would continue to live on in my heart due to the beauty of the movies, which includes, but can never be solely carried by the actors who depict them.