Three Billboards Outside Hamlet

What is it with Hollywood and dark stories?  So I’ll add Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to my list.  That list is highly acclaimed movies that are gratuitously dark.  On the list are Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and even though it isn’t highly acclaimed, Avengers: Infinity War.  What I found so uninteresting about Three Billboards is that it is a study of hate and revenge.  The movie showed us different ways and reasons and expressions of hate and different ways to take revenge.  For two hours.  Then, in the concluding 15 minutes, there was forgiveness and humanity as Mildred and Jason decide not to murder a rapist.  While I was watching, I asked myself, “Do I want to watch two hours of hate and revenge?  To what purpose?”  No.  I don’t.  I’m beginning to think I’ll have to take a vacation from Hollywood, as I did with pop music during the disco period.

Do we like to watch human darkness?  Do we want to pay money to watch hate and revenge?  For two hours?  Is life dark in its essence?  My life isn’t.  And the life of my friends isn’t.  And neither I nor my friends are living in existential bad faith.  We’re just living our lives.  Authentically.  There may be some philosophical currents that claim life is dark.  The Borg in Star Trek were created because viewers wanted a darker story.  Why?  What’s so great about darkness?  I think that people who crave dark stories are living in bad faith because I’m guessing that their lives aren’t all that dark, either.

Then I thought about really great art.  Many of Shakespeare’s plays are tragic.  They dramatize the lust for power, prejudice, the lust for revenge, hatred, anger, death, and other themes that are hard to watch.  And Sophocles not only wrote about murder, he wrote about incest.

Yet I enjoy Shakespeare.  And the darkness in it doesn’t put me off.  I think that the difference with Shakespeare is that there is nobility in it, too.  Of course I need not even mention the beauty of the language–the perfect marriage of sound and sense.  Shakespeare tears one’s heart open.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri just bored me with the incessant rage and petty revenge.  It wasn’t even all that true to life, as people, generally, don’t burn down police stations.

Plato had a real problem with well-done evil.  The Greek word kala means good and beautiful.  So it was a real question how you could have a beautiful ugliness.  Shakespeare isn’t wholly ugly in its beauty, with the noble impulses motivating his characters.  There is no nobility in Three Billboards, Manchester by the Sea, or Moonlight.  There is only base and unlovely humanity.

The Bee Gees are considered a great band by some.  And Boogie-oogie-oogie, the disco song, won a Grammy.  But when I had to live through the disco period, I turned exclusively to Classical Music until better pop music came back.  Looks like I’m going to have to do that with Hollywood, now.  Hope it won’t take too long.

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Trump Doesn’t Have the Reality Stone

In “The Avengers: Infinity Wars,” Thanos is killed.  But since he has the Reality Stone, he can make reality be whatever he wishes reality to be.  So he changes reality into one in which he doesn’t die.  I think that’s how it went–the film was pretty complex.  But with the reality stone, Thanos can turn reality into whatever he wants it to be.

Donald Trump doesn’t have the reality stone.  But he thinks he does.  Donald Trump thinks that whatever he says is real.  But he says a lot of things that are contrary to fact.  The Washington Post has recorded–and verified–3,000+ lies Trump has uttered since taking office.  Some of Trump’s lies are manifest because we actually have him on film saying one thing and then the opposite on another date or time.

Trump’s small base follows Trump’s into Trump reality.  So they, Fox News, and Trump himself are in a reality bubble that Trump has created.  We 60% who are not in Trump reality, but are in real reality, see this.  This is like the Buddhist Saints who saw Vimalakirti roll the earth into a ball but those on the earth who didn’t have enlightened vision couldn’t see it.  We who are not in Trump reality, are able to see real reality and can see Trump’s alternative universe as the small, Phantom Zone he makes up that it is.

People who are Trump supporters will not like this post of mine.  But I am simply stating facts, and a metaphorical comparison to Marvel Studios, DC Comics, and the Vimalakirti Sutra.  Facts do exist, and they are not the statements which create that Trump reality bubble.  It is we who have the Reality Stone, not Donald Trump.

Life Winding Here

The life I’ve led is winding

I have made plans

I have made choices

And the life I’ve led winded here

I can look back

And wonder at the path I’ve taken

The path that took me

Happy with that path in retrospect

The life that winded here

To this pleasant place

Now I am here

Now I am happy

Happy with it all

The path, the past, the present

 

I have choked and spat out

Unhappy options I had little choice but accept

And endure time

But winding to this place

This pleasant place

Here, now

The good path that winded here

Now

 

Yet here faith and mistrust oscillate

This place so contingent

This pleasantness

So easily brought to ruin, potentially

And the future a guess at best

Not even

There is yet faith, growing faith

Trusting that it’s all going to be all right

 

Thinking back

On a life lived long and well

In expectation of life yet to come

Probably long life

As life now

As life was

Will be

To wind to another tomorrow

Who Am I; Who Are You?

After resting for 45 minutes motionless, with acupuncture needles in my face, arms, abdomen, and legs, my doctor come into my room.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Peaceful,” I replied.

“Good,” my doctor said.

I thought to myself, “How many people that I know could I tell I’m peaceful?  How many situations that I find myself in would the subject of peacefulness be an appropriate conversation topic?”  And, “How many people would think I’m weird to tell them I feel peaceful?  Or not understand?”  Certainly, not at the Blues Club I frequent.  Or in my casual social occasions at the coffee shop or diner.

But my point is not how out-of-place talk of peace is.  My point is how often our conversation is constrained by our environment.  How often who we are is determined by whom we are talking to.

There are people with whom sports seems to be all I can talk about.  And I’m not that into sports.  There are people I talk about work issues with.  There are people with whom I act as a professional counselor.  There are some I seem to be talking about politics with.  Some are academic colleagues and we talk about philosophy.  Not too many people I can talk about poetry with.  There are some situations in which we complain and gripe.  There are a few people with whom I can bare my soul.  Who am I in each of these different scenarios?

There are degrees of authentic presence with other people.  There are situations in which we are polite and mannerly, which is essentially following a rule book.  There are situations in which we are diplomatic which requires sensitivity, fast and careful thinking and word choice.  There are times when we say what we think other people want to hear.  Then there are the feelings with which we encounter others.  Sometimes we speak in mutual love.  Sometimes we speak in mutual anger.  Sometimes we speak in mutual sincerity.  Sometimes in company with others we feel lonely because there is much of who we are that we cannot express in the environments we find ourselves in.  Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of situations in which one cannot talk because the listening audience is to heterodox to the one talking.    Who are we in these differing ways of dialogue?

I think that there are different degrees of depth in our personality makeup.  When we are alone, some of us are in touch with a depth that we can’t express in public, for various reasons.  We think, do, and feel as we wish when we are alone.  This may be who we really are.  There is also meditation and prayer, which takes us to an altered, deep level of personality above ordinary experience.

So who we are alone is one measure of the self.  Then, on the other hand, there are times when a person gets lost in sociality.  These are times when our environment dictates who we are, how we act.  When I was a Harvard student in Boston, I felt so connected to my social environment that there was no real divide between me and the culture of Harvard.  On the positive side, I was learning social graces and expanding my intellect.  On a negative side, I was all surface, appearance, propriety.  I lost my feeling of peace when alone in Nature.

But we can’t love when we are alone.  Love isn’t a feeling we shine out from our heart.  Love is an action word.  We love when we are involved with others.  We can love, also, when we do something of service to others, even when we are alone.  When I write, or play music, which will eventually get to other people, I love what I am doing.  My love for others comes out in words or melodies.  Sometimes peacefulness comes out.  When I am in company with others, I aim to bring love and the Good to our encounter, my love for humanity, and what I have learned to date that is good.  I may listen empathetically; I may joke around; I may share my personal life, I may inquire about others’ loves, lives, interests.  In all this I strive to be authentic.  I want people to meet who I am, not who I want people to think I am.

Once, a long time ago, I was talking to a stranger in a bar.  She said, “I’ve never met a real person before.”  I hope that wasn’t the whole truth.  But I think that we encounter degrees of reality in the people we meet.  I knew a man who accidentally told me that he is skilled in becoming the kind of person he thinks his social companion wants him to be.  That would be the opposite extreme of who I was back in the bar.  Being an authentic self is knowing self, and bringing self to social interactions.  And self in relationship with others is self expanded, growing through the interaction, acting on and in love and the good.  Being authentic in relationships expands who we are as we come away with an encounter of the other, another reality than our own.  While we may be one kind of real self when we are alone, we are also a real self when we are authentic in our relationships.

 

 

A Life

There was me

Me getting by

And that’s about it

Just getting by

 

Then there was life

And that life was you

Is you

 

Life now

Living now

Loving now

Loving life

Loving you

 

Even alone, you are in my life

Even in pain, want, struggle

Your pain, want, struggle

My pain, want, struggle

I live, have life

Have a life

Have you

 

In success, accomplishment, happiness

Yours or mine, yours in mine, mine in yours

I live redoubled

Love redoubled

Love life

Love living

Love you

Mary Poppins and Guns

My TV doesn’t give me many options for watching.  The “Bash Trump” networks, which I enjoy with a fiendish glee, were showing documentary crime stories and travel narratives, which didn’t interest me.  So it came down to Mary Poppins or American Reunion.  I couldn’t bring myself to watch Hollywood Ninja again.  American Reunion wasn’t coming on for a half-hour, so I resigned myself to Mary Poppins.  Then something strange happened.  I found myself enjoying Mary Poppins, so much so that I never did switch the channel to American Reunion.  A few weeks ago, I also found myself spellbound with The Sound of Music.  And in neither movie were there car chases, shooting, things blowing up, or gratuitous sex.  I even liked the music and dancing.  I’m not bashing contemporary movies.  I’m rather saying that old, family films have a command to them.  They were written for adults and for children.  And they have entertainment value for adults still.

They were created before the assault on family occurred of which I was a part.  I refer to the Summer of Love in Haight Ashbury and all that followed.  That was 1967.  Free love and visceral challenges to nearly all forms of authority, including police, military, parents, and religion served to unsettle society.  In fact, though the hippie movement was underground and counter-cultural, some of the values that it espoused became normative of general society.  Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music came out in 1964 and 1965 respectively.  Jimi Hendrix exploded into culture in 1967, solidifying the hippie movement as a social force that would revolutionize culture and reorder proprieties and values until today.

Though free love, drugs, and rock music have stayed with us, contemporary cinema’s preoccupation with guns is hard to account for.  There was a counter-hippie movement in the ’80’s when cocaine, money, and status became normative, along with being tough in business and personal life.  Then there was the ascendance of the punk movement which was essentially violence made musical.  But I’m not sure that these movements account for the rise of guns in film.

Mary Poppins could not be made today.  But when it was made, it was well made.  So well made that we can watch it today.  The cute children, the songs, the family dynamics, the dancing are all pleasing.  There can be good cinema that evokes other feelings than only adrenaline.  I don’t know if we can go there today, though.  Some form of peaceful revolution would need to happen in order to change pop culture into something that no longer craves adrenaline.  Perhaps the youth who are coming out to protest guns in the US will also mount a revolution of peace.  For that norm hasn’t remained from the world of the hippies.

 

Youth and Olding Age

I am olding

And I’ve never been happier

More contented

When I was young,

Nothing pleased me

I lived discontented

Yes, I was an angry young man

I made myself mad at strangers

I hated, hated every city I moved to

Was alienated and lonely

No wonder

Was manic and depressed

Felt useless

 

I am olding, now

And I’ve never been happier

More contented

I’ve found fulfilling work

Rewarding volunteer positions

My avocations flourish

I have delightful entertainment options

A few delightful possessions

I have found love

I am olding

And I’ve never been happier

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