Monday, April 30, 2007

See Me On A Big Screen! (In France)


Six Sense Productions has signed with distributors TriCoast International for domestic and foreign distribution for its feature film, The Cellar Door.
The film was written by Theatre Dojo founding teacher Chris Nelson, and includes your humble correspondent in a small role. (I die horribly. Here's a pic of us filming part of the scene - don't look if gore makes you queasy!)

(I'm the dead guy under the dead woman.)

The Cellar Door will screen at the Marche Du Film (the film market at the Cannes festival) on May 16th, 2007 at 8PM at the Palais. If you can afford a plane ticket to France, please check it out.

THE CELLAR DOOR was directed by Matt Zettell and produced by Hilary Six. The film features cinematography by Skye Borgman.

James DuMont (Ocean's Thirteen, War of the Worlds) and Michelle Tomlinson (Indelible) star in this taut and hallucinatory thriller set in the claustrophobic confines of a wooden cell deep within the basement of a serial killer.

Watch the trailer here.

Six Sense Productions has also inked a deal with TriCoast for a second feature and will go into development immediately.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Wait A Second, This Chicken Has Paws and a Snout!

We all know we've got more than one species in our henhouse - that's nothing new to our politics, and it is certainly not unique to the Bush Administration.

What is unique to the Bush Administration is how bad the coyotes' disguises are. These people have brought in some of the most foolish galoots I've seen on television since I watched Warner Brothers cartoons every Sunday.

Since it is Sunday, let's tune in to some real-life looney tunes and have a giggle at the expense of dumb wolves whose whiskers and snouts are falling out of their pathetic chicken suits.

So you're appointed President of the World Bank and from that dais you choose a pretty good flagship issue: corruption! Pretty soon, you become a full-fledged corruption hawk, denying loans and credit to countries on the basis of unvirtuous policies ridden with conflicts of interest and and good rules ignored. It's a pretty good gig already - and as icing on the cake, your girlfriend already works there, and so you are able to see each other during the day, enjoying lunch together and casual chats about the weather, sports, or the proliferation of democracy across the middle-east.

What would be a really good way to screw this all up? Mmmmmm - I know! Circumvent the bank's HR policies and demand large raises for the lady!

And then continue to defend this even though the World Bank explicitly prohibits couples from being employed there at the same time in the first place. Deny that there is any conflict of interest and and insist that we drop this matter and go back to what we're supposed to be doing:

Fighting corruption!

Good one, huh? Hold on, that's just the warmup. Here's one that will really get you going.

This guy is a clown prince of coyotes - the kind of doofus whose chicken suit has been pulled off, looks around at the farmers who have caught him, and tries that one - tentative - "b'caw?"

Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Randall Tobias.
Mr. Tobias served as CEO of two important corporations (AT&T International and Eli Lilly), retired, and became George W. Bush's AIDS ambassador in 2003. He was the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and went on to be appointed head of U.S. Foreign Assistance. In other words, since 2006 he has been the overseer of all our economic and humanitarian assistance across the world. He ranks as a deputy Secretary of State.

He is also the founder of the Randall L. Tobias Center For Leadership Excellence at Indiana University. Go Hoosiers!

As part of his job, he has contended with the spread of AIDS and the impact of the sex trade on health and economics in developing countries. In fact, Tobias took a very hard line on prostitution and sex trafficking. This had some unfortunate consequences. For instance, Brazil lost a very successful $40 million program that distributed condoms to sex workers in order to prevent the spread of HIV. Tobias and President Bush nixed that plan because, in the President's words, prostitution is "inherently harmful and dehumanizing." Groups now had to sign an anti-prostitution oath to receive federal money, which entailed no outreach to sex workers.

Call it tough love.

So what does Randall Tobias do in his spare time?

a.) Serve on the advisory boards of international relief organizations.

b.) Spend quality time with his wife.

c.) Hire escorts.

Answer: C!!!

That's right, Tobias - the AIDS Czar, cleaning up the ravages of unsafe sex and rampant prostitution - has admitted to employing the services of so-called "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey. In his own words, he paid "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage."



When Palfrey's operation was shut down because of her own legal problems, Tobias took his business elsewhere: to an escort service that imports Central American girls!

To give him his due, however, he insists that the girls he employed via the escort services were only giving him massages. He assures us there was no sex involved!

Apparently he is using the Clintonian definition of sex, which excludes blow jobs and hand jobs.

His White House bio page is still up. But it won't be for long. Here's his photo:

Randall L. Tobias, ladies and gentlemen, doing our country proud!

Friday, April 27, 2007

What If You Opened A Store and Nobody Came?

So strange. Having spent so much time talking about the concept, hearing the feedback and the excitement, getting a space, recruiting teachers, incorporating - now we're in that difficult stage where we've got a store and nobody is walking in. Gotta stick through this part, but it's spooky: sitting in an empty store wondering if your investment is lost.

It's one thing to have a good idea, another thing to make it happen. It is still another thing to stick with it, waiting for its heart to start beat independently, while the business partners get nervous and pull in different directions, and ones own doubtful voices keen and whine.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hate Him As Long You Want

You see, I'm a fraud.

They tell me why they want to learn about meditation. They want relief from stress and tension; they want to improve themselves in the area of kindness or calm or something like that; they want to enhance their physical health.

Doesn't work like that. I tell them this, to my credit. The ones who believe me stop coming after a couple of classes. The others, who think that maybe they really will get something, keep coming.

Last Saturday's class was, as you might expect, all about Virginia Tech. And one very enthusiastic new meditator had a confession:

"I don't feel any compassion for Seung-hui Cho."

And the meditation instructor said:

"Fine. Don't."

Incredulous pause. The woman is smiling as if waiting for the punchline to a joke.

"Don't be kind. Don't forgive. Take your concept of 'compassion' and flush it."

Still waiting. That can't be it. So I offer one more suggestion.

"This practice is about paying attention, so pay attention. Pay attention to how you feel and what you do, every moment, look at yourself and stop trying to improve yourself."

And what about Seung-hui Cho?

Pay attention. And, if it gives you pleasure, hate him.

Do that as long as you really want.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Strange Night At The A.R.T.

A curious incident took place at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge on Friday night. The evening and the footage that exists of what happened poses a legal question and also a question about civility.

On Friday night, Mike Daisey was doing his show. Daisey is a "monologist" in the style of the late Spalding Gray: he sits at a table with a glass of water and delivers full-length monologues consisting of interwoven personal stories and reflections. The piece he is performing at A.R.T., "Invincible Summer," is both a personal and historic portrait of New York City.

A high school group was visiting Boston all the way from Southern California, and they bought 87 tickets to the show. According to the theatre, when they bought the tickets, they explained that it was a high school group and asked if the subject matter was appropriate. The theatre told them the subject matter and warned them about some adult language and references to sex. The person buying the tickets indicated that was all right and bought the tickets.

The space where Daisey is performing is about 300 seats. (I remember it well - saw many things there when I lived in New England.) A few minutes into his piece, he finished up a bluish joke about Paris Hilton where he had dropped the F-bomb. Suddenly, the 87 people from Norco Senior High School stood up en masse and walked out. A third of the sold-out theatre simply got up without saying anything and walked out.

In the video that captured the incident, Daisey stops his performance and watches them walk out with a puzzled look on his face.

It could have ended there. But no, one of the chaperones took it into a new realm. He walked up to the stage, took Daisey's glass of water, and poured it all over Daisey's notes. (The piece is extemporaneous and depends on his hand-written notes, which Daisey uses as an outline.)

As the A.R.T. points out, this could be likened to someone slashing a painting at a museum. It was a deliberate attempt to silence a performance. Not just to walk out, but actually to silence a show that others had paid to see.

The incident, Daisey's attempt to question his protesters, and his rather graceful and humorous recovery, makes for a fascinating 9 minutes of video. Enjoy:

So far, Daisey has gotten a "half-hearted apology" from the school's activities director. Where is the principal of this school? I feel the man (clearly seen in the video) who rushed the artist and defaced his work needs to be offered up for accountability. There is a bright line between walking out on a show you don't like, and attempting to prevent anyone else from enjoying it.

Now THAT's a lesson for the kids.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hanging Upside Down Thirty Feet In The Air

"This is humanity at its finest!"

Thus asserted Chris, who was very much in his element. Out by the Los Angeles River, in an industrial area, we stood outside the workshop and residence of a metallurgist named Gabriel who had built an extraordinary gift for his girlfriend.

For his lady love, Gabriel had built a steel swing designed to fly a person thirty feet in the air. The swing rotates 360 degrees, and the passenger, strapped into a harness, is taken upside down. For additional fun, the seat spins as well. The entire apparatus - hundreds of pounds of steel - was braced and bolted securely to the wall, and tested to make sure the occupant of that seat would not be scraped across the building or rammed into a nearby tree.

This 6-second video clip demonstrates the experience:

The bags of sand seen above were in place to weigh down the passenger seat, so they could bring down the counterweight end and decorate it with green light. The green lights were powered by a car battery, which Gabe had to strap very securely somewhere on the arm of the swing:

We watched the swing rotate for the first time, 180 degrees so they could decorate the counterweight:

Naturally, we cast our gaze upward to see the sandbags which were sitting in for a human passenger at the moment. There they were: 30 feet in the sky, and upside down.

Gabriel's girlfriend kept asking, "Can I go on now? When can I go on?" as Gabe and his friend worked fast to wrap the arm in glowing green strips, since everyone knows a carnival ride needs to be lit up.

Finally, the lucky lady got to take her ride. The seat consisted of a secure harness consisting of three belts and some caribeeners. She could barely contain her glee as she was assisted with her straps. This girl wanted to fly.

And here she goes...

"This is humanity at its finest!" Chris declared again. "This man spent three days building this and inviting everyone here - just because it's fun!"

This is what Chris loves the most: anarchic situations where inventive people congregate and engage in beautiful and elaborate frivolity. There is fellowship in gratuitous fun.

Chris was the first of our group to go for the ride:

And off he went. This one-minute video shows you what the ride is like:

Chris later warned me on a point of anatomy, vis a vis the harness. "Remember," he counseled me, "That at the top of the circle, you are literally hanging upside down by your nuts. So get those nuts where you want them to be at the beginning."

I heeded his warning shortly afterward, when I doffed my grey jacket, emptied my pockets, kicked off my flip-flops, and hopped on board.

Oh yes I did:

As I strapped myself into the harness, my mental activity sped up with assumptions about what I was going to experience. I imagined I would get dizzy, that I would feel scared for my life when I found myself hanging upside down at a height that would kill me if I fell. Once in motion, the thoughts calmed down and the ride felt quite safe. The smooth ride and the snug harness made me feel as if I were a baby being "flown" around in my mother's arms. The ride ended before I really wanted it to, but by then a line was forming.

Gabe started a fire outside, there was food on the grill, and plenty of wine. Orange sparks flew into the air and gratuitous fun prevailed. Gabe's girlfriend graciously allowed everybody a chance to go for a ride before reclaiming her seat and spinning around some more.

Around. And around. And around. Like life, like love.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Paid A Bill, Walked Into Some History

The gas bill at work didn't get paid.

Our last accountant was incompetent, so the gas bill didn't get paid and they were going to shut the gas off as of 5:00 Friday if they didn't get payment. Since I was not about to allow that - it would mean our kids going hungry - I decided to walk the check to the nearest gas company office and make the payment in person. This required a decent walk south on Central Avenue and I was up for it.

In another era, Central Avenue around here was the west coast jazz mecca. I walked by an awning that looked very much like an entrance to a club, and it bore letters spelling out "Club Alabam." I had no idea what this was. I also walked by a rather grand looking building on the other side of 42nd and Central that said something about a man named Summerville.

Later that day, I decided to go out again, venture into the neighborhood a bit, and eat lunch someplace walking distance from work. This meant a burrito for lunch, which I enjoyed. As I ate said burrito I looked at the wall and noticed a photograph of an old show poster from the "Club Alabam" and a picture of a chorus line, apparently from this same "Club Alabam." The awning was still there across the street. I went and looked again. The awning may once have led to a club, but not it leads to a space between two newer buildings. The awning neatly frames an electric meter. I sensed that in this blank space there was some history.

Well, I had no idea. Club Alabam was THE place. Basie played here. Ellington. All the greats. The house band itself was legend. That building next door, the one with Summerville's name on it, is the Hotel Dunbar: a hotel built in the 1920's specifically to provide a first-class hotel that would serve blacks in L.A. It was built at a time when some of the streets in Watts were still unpaved. The jazz greats slept there, and played at the Alabam. There is a legend that W.C. Fields accidentally integrated the hotel by getting so drunk he passed out there and spent the night.

There is also a grand old theatre building, further north on Central, that was another major, major jazz hall. It is now a gigantic, Spanish-speaking church.

I have nothing to say about this. I just want to put on some Lester Young and listen to it with you.

Working Life, Living Work

"Oh, you're leaving?"

Twenty past six. Yes, I was leaving.

My boss was all in: she was going to be there after dark and would probably be back early in the morning. Sometimes I'm there after dark - and/or early in the morning - indeed, I worked on Good Friday while the rest of the staff was off, owing to an audit that has not been going smoothly for us.

As a general rule, I am committed to being there for eight or nine hours, working hard, and then stacking up what I couldn't finish and leaving for the day. Put it down. A human life requires balance. We need to leave the office and devote time for making love, feeding our bodies good food, prayer, zazen, reading and writing, education, making art (or enjoying it), yoga. This list does not even take parenting into account!

My mother is at her office by 6:00 am and is usually there twelve hours later. She brings work home with her on the weekends. She is utterly invaluable to her employer.

Not my choice. For me, work will always be part of my day and my Zen practice.

At my current job, I am very fortunate in that I was asked to lead a meditation group on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On those days, I actually have a semi-officially sanctioned break to go and sit. (I surrender my lunch hour for this.) Makes it easier for me to remember, during those 8-9 hours, to return to my breath. Even during an audit - which has brought some pressure on me these last two weeks. Regardless of the situation: breathe, return to the essential question - what am "I?"

Life does not stop between 9:00 and 5:00. There is not "work time" and "time for everything else." There is not sacred time and profane time, except in thinking. It's all your time.

The great job of being a human being, 24 hours a day. What a beautiful job it is.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A Dance For Easter, Passover, and Buddha's Birthday

Buddha's Birthday actually falls late in May, for those who convert the lunar calendar to the solar. The eighth day of the fourth lunar month. For convenience, many temples simply observe Buddha's Birthday in April.

So good morning! I'm off to the Zen Center to celebrate the weekend with a precepts ceremony and a ceremony thanking our original teacher. After that, I'm hitting the beach for a theatre-yoga party. (To which you are invited.)

If you can't be there, please enjoy the following three minutes of joy, from the 1989 film Zatoichi:

Friday, April 06, 2007

On Nancy Pelosi's Headscarf

So the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives paid a visit to Syria. This made some people very angry indeed, although the people who got mad at her did not seem to be upset that she was preceded by a contingent of Republicans, and followed by still another Republican from Congress. I am asked to believe that it is only bad when a key leader from the Democratic party goes to Syria.

That much, I release as politics. Politics trump truth, and it is our country's darling albatross.
But the headscarf. Yes, you may have heard. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi consented to wear a headscarf on her visit to a mosque.

And some of the wagging tongues dared to suggest that this gesture was an appeasement of radical, violent Islamicist forces. She was accused of "donning the garb of America's enemies." Such statements were not made when First Lady Laura Bush donned the scarf. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not have her patriotism questioned when she did the same. Once again, okay for Republicans, not for Democrats. Politics as usual.

Except not. I want to call attention to the subtle backhand of bigotry in this specimen of mudslinging. Please notice that by equating a Syrian mosque with Al-Qaeda, with the terrorism of the brigades who deal death in the name of a religion, it equates the Islamic faith itself with terrorism. The headscarf itself - the act of a woman covering her hair upon entering a mosque - is subtly being made into something it is not: an icon of terrorism, in order to demonize the religion and its adherents.

Intelligent and civilized people should point this out when it occurs. Let us behave a little bit better than our leaders and the people who fill up our newspapers. Let us think for ourselves and see above the mudslinging.

As a gesture of community respect and humility, I have happily donned the yarmulke when visiting synagogues. For a while, I used to sing at one synagogue on a regular basis, and was even asked to don a traditional prayer shawl when singing there on Yom Kippur.

Was I assimilating? Was I endorsing the Israeli government by doing so? Was I standing with militant Zionism? How absurd. It means nothing more than what it means when I visit a Thai temple and sit with my feet pointed away from the teacher; or bowing my head when I am introduced to a Japanese man; or greeting a Korean monk by saying, "Angyo-ha-shim-nikaa" and putting my hands in hapjang. When I visit a Catholic mass, I do a little bow before entering the pew, kneel when other folks kneel, and somehow in doing this I haven't lost my center or surrendered the integrity of who I am.

The politics of Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria is a topic for a long blog, and I have mixed feelings about all of that. It is certainly no surprise that her trip was controversial, and surely not a surprise to her. All of that aside, I wanted to address the bigotry that is revealed in some of the reaction.

Unless we are willing to understand the Islamic religion and accept its presence in the world and in our own nation, we are unable to do what really needs to be done, which is isolating the bigotry and violence that is carried out in the name of Islam. We live in a nation where murder has been committed in the name of Christianity and violence has been supported in the name of religion and good causes such as animal rights: this is something we should understand.

You and I, who are the President and the Speaker of our own lives, set the tone wherever we are. Let that tone be one of democracy, critical thinking, and respect. Let us call islamophobia out for what it is, and call on one another to respond differently to these difficult and frightening times.

In America, we are called on by our ancestors to respond to fear with something better than xenophobia. Hatred and ignorance do not protect us from a damned thing.