The emptiness

“The emptiness is the space in which you will create your new life.”  I once was inspired to say this to a friend who was struggling with feeling so empty.  I think I have been struggling to learn this my whole life.  I’ve gone to such lengths to avoid the feeling of emptiness, both literally and figuratively.  The Tao says out of No Thing springs Every Thing.  It also says that the Every Thing is illusion, that in fact all is One.  So where does the feeling of emptiness come from?  I once said that I felt like I might float off the planet.  I guess I felt so untethered I imagined myself as a toy balloon escaping the earth’s grasp.  Floating away into the sky.  What if emptiness is a natural state, one to be embraced and explored?  My tiny mind has been afraid and  unable to understand from a perspective of fear.

Lately, I have been coming to terms with the fact that this “new life” as a remedy for the emptiness is an illusion too, of course.  “There’s just no way to get through this life!”  I once cried out to a friend when I myself was in despair.  What did I mean?  Do I actually think there is some way to get through life that I just need to figure out?  Well, yes and no but not really.  In my heart of hearts, I already know as the Zen master said.  I recognize things like that.  But a big part of me (ego) has been under this illusion for too long.  I’m beginning to know now, on a deeper level than ever before that, “no matter where you go, there you are.”  There is no escape.

So maybe the emptiness is the space in which I(you) will be able to be my (your)self, to relax and get comfortable.  What if we can expand to fill the space?  After all, it is spacious.  What is so frightening about that?  And make no mistake it has been terrifying.  We instinctively seek shelter from it.  We hide in our literal and figurative caves and then draw on the walls to distract ourselves from the fact that we are living in a cave.  What is the actual nature of this Space(Emptiness) from which we run?  Unpredictable, unfathomable, immeasurable, unconquerable, untameable, elusive.  I am not going to solve this problem.  Is it a problem to be solved?  What if I think of it in terms of the Tao?

The Tao isn’t a finite thing, it’s a process like a flow.  There is no space to fill or hide from, there is only a flow to go with.  If we relax and float along we are buoyed and carried by it, and when we don’t we get knocked around.  I’m going to stop now as I wanted to get some thoughts down that had been coming up and that’s it for now.

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On Body and Soul

This is one of the most beautiful and deeply romantic films I have ever seen. From Hungary, written and directed by Ildiko Enyedi. This is a story, that like Phantom Thread, gets the issues between women and men right. While Phantom Thread is more of a battle, On Body and Soul is more like a journey of discovery and the differences between men and women are treated with respect and are cherished. We are different, but in both stories no one is made to feel ashamed about it. The men and women in these stories love each other for themselves.

Cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful, by Mate Herbai. Beautiful shot after beautiful shot, through glass and nature. I’m not sure why the director chose to set her story in an abattoir, but this is the setting for where these two soulful people meet. It is upsetting to see the cows slaughtered, and I was thankful the director chose not to show the moment of death for the poor animals. In the credits there is a statement in which there were animals harmed during the production but not for the sake of the film, that they were just portraying the daily routine in an abattoir. We do see the animals’ corpses then butchered and it is very difficult to watch but is not dwelled on. It seems to be handled in a matter of fact way as a part of these peoples’ lives. Andre plays the company CFO and an older man who has admittedly quit the game of love and Marika plays the quality control inspector, and who appears to never have started until now. It is in harsh contrast to the ethereal dreams they share in which he is a stag and she is a doe in a snowy forest and the tender development of their relationship in real life. Perhaps this says something about how love can be found in the darkest and most hopeless or cruel places. It is definitely an example of “love will find a way.”

There is some comic relief with supporting characters interacting with Andre and Marika at work. Especially memorable is the HR director who pontificates about putting a woman in her place and then is seen being coached by his wife to pick up the kids and go grocery shopping as she has an appointment with the hairdresser. Also, an elderly cleaning lady with a lot of life and attitude who coaches Marika about how to hook a man.

There is an especially touching segment in which Marika, after seeking the advice of her child psychologist (who seems to desperately want her to go to one for adults) goes about in her day, deliberately setting up experiences so that she can become accustomed to touching and being touched, readying herself for bodily love. Her sensual experiences are so lyrically filmed it really captures the heart. Seeing her do this by herself for herself but also for her relationship is very moving. It’s hard to convey the emotional experiences of this film, but it is a must see.

La bete humaine

TCM from the Criterion Collection. French film directed by Jean Renoir based on a story by Emile Zola. Starring Jean Gabin and Simone Simon. Gorgeous to look at in a gauzy black and white with almost burnished tones. Tale of lust, love, jealousy and murder, old as time but wonderful to watch with these people, who manage to make these awful characters sympathetic, amazing.

For All Mankind

YAHOO! I can see why Carl Sagan called humans the sea otters of the Universe. This is captivating, exhilarating and sublime. I was only six when this happened so I only remember a little bit of it on tv.

This documentary captures everything, though, and makes it very intimate and human, it is wonderful! Beautiful score by Brian Eno and some fun songs the astronauts brought with them. Everything is so close that you feel you are almost there too.

I cried happy tears all through. Now streaming on Criterion Channel for early subscribers.

Summer in the digital age

Summer in the digital age

Anticipation or dread?

A restless mind thinks:  Both?

It’s so hot.  A restless body

Tosses on the sheets

Relentless sunshine with

Daylight savings.

 

It’s so sultry in the evenings

So long awaited.

Bonfires on the beach

As the sun slowly sets.

 

The scents of suntan lotion

And roasted marshmallows

Wrap around us while stars

Wink into being

As the twilight descends in the Western sky

 

We grow quiet as the fire

Persists in getting our attention

Flames flicker with the speed

Of the digital age in which we’ve

Created cold fire in our hands

 

We’ve always been chasing the flickers

Summer loses the battle to quiet our minds.

Daily minutiae whirls away from us

into the Universe.

 

PT Anderson’s Punch-drunk Love

Punch-drunk Love written and directed by PT Anderson

PT Anderson is one of my favorite directors, so I watched this the first time when it first came out and I didn’t really remember much about it except that it was mildly good so I watched it again on demand. It’s a strange one, with a Charlie-Kaufmanesque tone of tragicomedy/absurdity that is offbeat and awkward. Kaufman’s sensibility and tone is not one I am in sync with (it seems like Kaufman wants you to squirm) and so at first this is off-putting. However, it also has some elements of whimsy/fantasy a la Wes Anderson, which I am much more comfortable with as it seems like Wes wants to include us. I don’t know for sure of course, but it feels like PT Anderson is trying on different voices in his writing/direction with this. Additionally, there is some reference to greek mythology and since the Coen Brothers Oh Brother Where Art Thou came out two years earlier, perhaps that is an influence too.

Spoiler alert: I wanted to make sure I remember this story so I re-tell most of it here.
Adam Sandler is remarkably good and almost selfless in a real role for him. He plays Barry Egan, a business man who sells bathroom supplies and has emotional problems which have severely limited his psychological growth and led to a very stunted, limited life. Emily Watson doesn’t have much to do but she is her radiant self as she plays Barry’s love interest, Lena Leonard. A couple of regular players for PT Anderson are here too: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Luis Guzman.

There is some random seeming symbology and use of myth that I’m not sure about but noticed: Barry is wearing a technicolor blue suit (some beautiful use of color in an abstract way and beautiful cinematography all through) and it is mentioned several times in the script that this is not his usual attire. (perhaps he has donned a suit of armor for his life quest) He has seven sisters who nag, hound and berate him abominably. (the seven sisters or Pleiades in greek mythology were daughters of Atlas, who carried the world on his shoulders and were nursemaids and teachers to the infant Dionysus who was the god of wine, comedy and tragedy) A harmonium is violently dropped off in the street by Barry’s place of business, he thinks it’s a small piano but Watson knows it’s a harmonium and it suddenly becomes very important to them.

Sandler’s character has anger issues usually triggered by his seven sisters who nag, hound and berate him and he likes to wield a hammer to break their windows (useless, destructive and ineffectual) rather than dealing assertively with his sisters and standing up for himself.

Barry is lonely and after asking one of his brothers in law who’s a doctor to refer him to a psychiatrist Barry breaks down crying after telling him he does this sometimes and it’s hard for him to stop. After telling his brother in law not to discuss it with his sisters, one of his sisters asks him if this happened and does he have a crying problem?
Ashamed about needing someone to talk to but still very lonely, he impulsively decides to call a phone sex line for someone to talk to. (Misguided, but an attempt nevertheless to reach outside himself for help to change his life) She of course tries to immediately engage in phone sex but he politely continues to try to just make conversation. The phone sex worker winds up calling him the next day to ask for money and when he politely declines ( an attempt to stand up for himself, Sandler’s character is child-like and very naive yet seems functional in his strange business of selling bathroom supplies) she becomes vicious and begins to threaten and extort him for money, her boss (Hoffman) sending her brothers after him to rob him and beat him up. He is accused of being a pervert by them and must pay for his bad behavior according to them and this is repeated in the script a few times in an effort to shame him but he ultimately overcomes his embarrassment. (Becomes arbiter of his own life)

As Sandler and Watson are falling in love, Sandler decides to follow her to Hawaii when she has to go on a business trip. He has been trying to win flying miles from the Healthy Choice promotion by buying pallets of their pudding but they put him off for six weeks until they can process his order. He freaks out and punches the wall but decides to go to Hawaii after all. (Choosing to let go of an obsession and the need to control to pursue love) He tells Guzman that he’s in charge of the business while he’s gone and that under no circumstances is he to tell his sisters where he went.

When he gets there he realizes he doesn’t know where Watson is staying so he calls his sister (who is a friend and co-worker of Watson’s) from a phone booth to get the information and when she demands to know why first, he screams at her that she shouldn’t treat him that way and that he will kill her if she doesn’t give him the information. (finding strength to overcome obstacles and stand up to his sisters) She backs off and complies. When he’s there with Watson he says, “Wow, it really looks like Hawaii here” with absolutely no irony. They make love in Watson’s room that night telling each other they’d like to chew each others faces off and scoop each others eyes out they are so cute and they clearly have a meeting of the minds and souls. ( being open to real intimacy) Next morning, Sandler sits in bed while Watson phones his sister and pretends she hasn’t seen him and they aren’t together. (Creating an autonomous life)

After the trip to Hawaii as they are returning home Hoffman’s thugs ram his car with Watson in it and she is hurt, (this is a breath-takingly slo-mo scene that is brilliantly edited and he later uses this technique beautifully in Magnolia twice) he gets out of the car and turns all of his anger against all four brothers, beating them to a pulp. (righteous and victorious use of his anger) He leaves Watson at the hospital though to go out to Utah to confront Hoffman at his mattress store. He and Hoffman have a semi-comic showdown in almost wild west fashion where Barry tells Hoffman that he has love in his life and that this has made him so strong as to be unconquerable and gets Hoffman’s character to say “that’s that” and to never try to harm Barry or Lena again. Once Barry returns, Lena has been discharged from the hospital and Barry is bereft. He runs to the office to get the harmonium, then runs with the harmonium to her apartment where he explains the whole story to her and she takes him back after chiding him for leaving her at the hospital and telling him that he cannot do that. He agrees and gathers her up in a hug and kiss of reunion (dealing sensitively with constructive feedback about what’s important).

So, in re-telling this story, I can see that it is a late coming of age story in which Barry confronts himself and life, overcomes personal short-comings and external obstacles to find love and create a life for himself. Strangely, somehow I feel that in spite of my trying to remember this film, I will forget it again and I think it’s because it lacks an emotional connection. On paper, the emotions are there but on screen everything seems muted and distant. Still, it’s a sweet film with good intentions.

I, Olga Hepnarova

Beautifully shot black and white film in Czech with English subtitles. Based on the life of a real person, this film does not sensationalize or glamourize the subject matter at all. It’s a devastating portrait of a little girl who never had a chance and eventually lashed out.

Apparently having schizoid tendencies at an early age, the victim of bullying and a cruel family, Olga first tried to kill herself at age thirteen. In the film, her family life is exposed by having this quote spoken by her mother: “To commit suicide you need a strong will, my child. Something you certainly don’t have. Accept it. ”

Shortly after this, she is institutionalized where she is kicked and beaten in the shower by the other girls there. The film then shows us Olga trying to make an independent life for herself, find work, find love and all the while receiving intermittent, incompetent psychiatric care as well as cruel treatment from people in her life who don’t understand her illness.

We hear her thoughts in letters she writes to the newspapers before she commits the mass murder that will get her executed by short-drop hanging, the last execution to be committed in Czechoslovakia 1975. Her letters indicate her descent into madness but also the clarity and lucidity she maintained in her thinking mind.

Very sadly, right before her execution she is interviewed and there is a complete break with reality evident in her answers. It would seem they executed an insane person with no concept of what was happening to her or why. Devastating. I know there are many other Olgas out there and have been and will be.