Dreaming Myself Awake

I've posted some links on Twitter recently, to kabbalah.info, and wanted to delve into my perspective a bit here. I've read a little on the subject, and while I don't consider myself a kabbalist, I have been told by those who do (consider themselves) that my ideas are quite similar to theirs. I also draw from Christain mystics, Sufis, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Jesuits, Hindus, Athiests and more - so it would never be accurate to ascribe my understanding of the world and approach to life to any particular religion or philosphy.

I believe we are each created toward a specific purpose, designed for a specific role in the story of the Universe. That story is larger than any of us, yet each of us is essential to it.

We play that role, wittingly or not, according to our natures, our true or essential Will. We can better understand our Will, and better fulfill our role simply by following the internal compass of joy. What it is that makes us joyful, that satisfies us on a deep level, that makes us feel right and at peace and happy - that is our Will, or at least a part of it.

I find this sense of joyful purpose giving massage, especially when I am relieving pain. I find it in my writing, when an idea comes and I dive into it and let it flow through me, transmuting it to words in my own voice. The sensation is similar to lucid dreaming, taking control of an unconscious process and turning it in another direction.

I also find it at moments in other activities: noticing a beautiful contrast of a rusted yellow warehouse against a blue sky, watching my dog play, catching a glance between two people in love. The part of my purpose found in these moments is learning to appreciate the world.

We can also seek to understand how or own role fits with the larger dream of the Universe. This begins with the recognition of two things: 1) Each and every person has a role to play, and in this, we are all equal 2) the Universe is in constant communication with us, but we can only narrowly perceive the messages it conveys.

In addition to our bliss as a guide, everything around us is imbued with meaning - the arrangement of letters and numbers, the pattern in the branches of a tree, the "chance" crossing of our path with another person. Through introspection, study, openness and perception we can catch glimpses of this meaning, and as we do so, while continuing to follow our Will using our sense of joy as a guide, then we can progress spiritually.

A sense of the connection we have to the larger story is essential for the human race to survive. We can see from the echoes and repercussions occurring through the economies of the world right now. Our personal integrity is important, but it is also important to do our best to strengthen others - because if they fall, we will stumble. it is important, too, to remember that we cannot carry them, or try to direct them on the road to our own goals - because each person and each nation must discover their own Will, and learn to embody it. (I'm an advocate of micro-loans rather than charity or larger government loans.)

The most powerful thing we can do is to set an example by living our Will, and sharing our joy. In so doing, we inevitably inspire others to do the same.

Destiny and other problems

Slumdog Millionaire. Definitely one of the best films of last year. Not on my top ten list for the decade, but an enjoyable film that really struck a chord with audiences.

There has been a lot of debate over the film, including some points I think are worth taking a moment to address.

1) It's emotionally manipulative.
Well, uh, yeah. It's a movie. Seriously, though, this is I think one of the oddest complaints and its one I've seen directed toward other popular movies, like E.T. I've never been sure whether the problem is that it's transparent about the emotions it's working to evoke, that it does so clumsily or incompletely, that it becomes melodramatic, or that it does so too well. Nearly all films, including documentaries... in fact, nearly all art, is emotionally manipulative. Whether it's simply trying to share a sense of the wonder of a panorama, or to get us to share the soaring hopes and failures of a character, that is part of what movies do. Do you really think There Will Be Blood was not manipulative?

2) It's culturally biased.
Well, the Indian co-director did her best to help temper cultural insensitivities, and my impression is that she did an excellent job. A little of this is unavoidable any time you have a film being made about a country and culture that the director is not native to. I think it's far less culturally insensitive than, say, Last of the Mohicans is about Native Americans, or The Hunt for Red October is about Russians. Even a native Indian director would have their own bias: muslim/hindu, Mumbai native or from another city, etc.

3) It glamorizes poverty/It makes the poor look bad/It makes Mumbai look like a crime-ridden slum/It only shows one side of India
I did not find that it made poverty look appealing. I can't imagine any kid watching Slumdog and thinking it would be cool to be poor like that. Nor does it portray all the poor folks in the same light (all good or all bad.) I don't know how anyone could see the harshness of burning out a child's eye so they will make more money begging as "glamorizing," unless they were just looking at the pretty colors and the lovely cinematography. And in the two brothers it shows the choices that most poor face: embrace a life of crime and try to profit at great risk, OR work hard and be honest and hope that destiny will deliver you to a better life.
As for only showing one side of India or portraying Mumbai as a slum: The only slum larger than the one portrayed in Slumdog is in Nairobi. Dharavi is home to millions, and it is most definitely a slum (though one that is beginning to be redeveloped.) And since when has it been the responsibility of any movie to accurately portray an entire nation. It's not the job of a movie to give an accurate and balanced view of India, and this kind of criticism only points out how much further world cinema has to go.

4) Destiny? That's weak.
A lot of people were frustrated by the plot revolved which around a character who felt he was destined to achieve what he achieves. There are three things they miss.

First: Destiny holds a much more important place in the thinking of a culture where most marriages are still arranged and where poverty is a much less permeable barrier than in the US. The film's character believes in destiny.
Second: Most Hollywood Romance movies, and many other films, rely to a large extent on destiny. They found each other because they were meant to be together. It's a fairly common device.
Third: Destiny... or the sum of a life's choices? How can you tell the difference? is there one? I am sitting here now writing this blog, and I can go back and point to various instances in my life that led me to be exactly where I am and who I am now, that led up to this precise point. They were things that happened to me, and how I responded to them. To say that a character is Destined is only to say that what must occur does occur, or what does occur must. Destiny is no mystery. Destiny does not negate choices, it simply uses our choices to manifest itself.

5) The acting was weak.
OK. I concede this one. At least as far as the leads were concerned. I think that Dev Patel was flat, and am glad that he was only in a fraction of the film. The younger actors were full of spark and life and were completely wonderful. Frieda Pinto's performance completely lacked nuance - but that does not matter for reasons I'll get to shortly. The other actors, however, were great, including the older Salim. So I don't think Dev Patel should win any awards for his performance, but he did manage not to muck up the movie as a whole.

6) Latika was a golddigger, or Latika was way underdeveloped
There were subtleties in the character that a better actress could have brought to light. She sacrificed her virginity to save Jamal's life, but part of her wanted him to somehow stop Salim. Instead, Jamal ran away, and left her to become a trophy to the local mafioso. So yeah, when he showed up again it took her a little while to warm up to him. And she knew that if she ran away, the bad guys would come after her - so it would take some money to get someplace safe. Asking about money was practical, but it was also defensive - fear of being judged, criticism of Jamal who had abandoned her for so long... but ultimately, Latika's character and her feelings are unimportant for one simple reason.
I'm surprised that no one seems to have seen her this way, but Latika is not so much a character, as she is the MacGuffin.
Latika is what motivates much of the key action in the film, not just because she is what Jamal wants above all else, but because that desire directs many of Salim's actions, and desire to possess Latika motivates the beggar-king, and the mafioso.
Latika is the MacGuffin. It doesn't matter one bit if she loves Jamal. It's the journey toward her, toward the object of desire, that gives an order and a meaning to the otherwise apparently random string of events that make up Jamal's life.

technical problems

OK, one of the barriers in recent months to more frequent blogging has been that I switched to Safari as my browser of choice. Safari is wonderful for reading text online, as the fonts are crisper, clearer, and darker than on any other browser. The problem is, Safari runs into incompatibility problems with some website features - mostly music players. Sometimes they just don't show up.

I don't mind opening Firefox for listening to music. I don't listen often anyway. or the occasional images that just don't want to display in Safari. What I do find frustrating is that Safari, at least on this machine, locks up whenever I try to type a post in blogger. What's up with that? Blogging, reading AND WRITING, is the whole reason I choose Safari. I've tried looking for answers or suggestions, but I don't find any evidence that there are a lot of people experiencing problems using Blogger on Safari (for Windows.)

Not much of an excuse, but I keep starting posts and forgetting until I'm three or four lines in and it locks up...

Los Angeles - grime and traffic

In response to a post on John August's blog where he discusses the following quote:

Can you figure out which of the following is accurate?

Los Angeles’s air is choked with smog.

Los Angeles has developed in a low-density, sprawling pattern.

Angelenos spend more time stuck in traffic than any other drivers in the nation.

Thanks to the great distances between far-flung destinations, and perhaps to Angelenos’ famed “love affair” with the car, Angelenos drive considerably more miles than most Americans.

Los Angeles is dominated by an overbuilt freeway system that promotes autodependence.

Los Angeles’s mass transit system is underdeveloped and inadequate.

As someone who grew up in LA in the 80s (Palos Verdes), and lived back there a few years ago (Koreatown), and who has also lived in several cities around the US plus in Europe - this is my take.

The orange haze from the 80s is gone. BUT my apartment in Koreatown was constantly covered with a layer of soot-like black grime. So there is still a LOT of crud in the air, it’s just not orange anymore.

Definitely sprawling, but only moderately low-density… and this is improving over time. Neighborhoods are getting more defined (in a good way) and downtown and adjacent areas becoming more self-sufficient. Compared to DFW, where I live now, it’s definitely got more going for it in terms of density, which I consider a good thing. A 30-40 mile work commute is not uncommon here, and the suburban areas are generally really generic, as they haven’t developed much neighborhood flavor.

More time stuck in traffic? I dunno. Depends on where you’re traveling and when. Most learn to adjust their schedules to avoid peak traffic times, and many employers offer work scheduling that takes that into account (like allowing people to come in at 7am or at 10am for an 8-hr shift) but when I was living in K-town and working in Pasadena, that short drive could take a very long time in the evening rush.

Angelenos love their cars. This is true. I see more classic and more souped up cars driving around LA than any other city I’ve lived in. But more miles altogether? Nah. I’m sure it takes more driving to get around DFW than it did in LA. I mostly stayed within a handful of neighborhoods, walked (gasp!really!) a lot, and found lots to entertain me. Well, when I was in K-town that is. Great location close to everything. Growing up in PV, well, getting anywhere meant driving over the hill. I actually took the bus from Rancho Palos Verdes to USC for a full semester before my parents relented and helped me get into a dorm room. Oi. So, I guess it depends on where you draw your circle and call it “LA” - how far you get into the suburbs. I’m sure people who live in the Valley drive a lot. Those in Hollywood, not so much.

Wouldn’t call the freeway system overbuilt. Seems about right for the area, and not so much more than many other metro areas.

Now as for the mass transit. Hm. It exists. With care and planning you can kinda get around. But it’s really pathetically inadequate. In Prague, I could leave a theater after midnight in one outlying area, and get a tram or subway back to an outlying area on the far side of the metroplex. I might have to wait 20 minutes, or even 30 on a Sunday. Getting around the heart of the city was effortless. Small towns like Boulder and Santa Cruz have great bus systems. Of the places I’ve lived, LA is only better than one: DFW. DFW has the most inadequate sorry-assed attempt at public transportation as any place I’ve lived. In LA, I could walk or ride a bike most places. In Dallas there are huge areas where it’s hard to get across the freeways if you’re not driving. It’s like coming across a rushing river in the middle of the urban jungle. You sometimes have to traverse the banks for miles to find a bridge.

I love LA. I like it a lot better than Dallas. My only real problems with LA are the following:

* The pollution. Seriously, maybe it's not so bad if you're further from downtown, but my apartment would get *filthy* with grime. My car windows were too grimy to see out of if I didn't wash them every week. (In Dallas, I can go 3 or 4 weeks. Unless it's pollen season or we've had dirt thrown on the roads for ice.)

* The poor public transportation.

* and, more than any other by far - The cost of living as compared to the wages. It's 3x more expensive than here, but wages are about the same or even slightly lower. This means most folks work 2 or three jobs, housing is not affordable, and stress levels are generally much higher than anyone wants to admit because it would ruin the laid-back sunny zen-smoking image Angelenos like to keep up.