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David Lynch on Meditation

4 Oct

catching

And now for something completely different: a book review of Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch.

I don’t think I was ready for the combination that was David Lynch + transcendental meditation until very recently, and so that is why I think that Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity only came into my life nine years after its 2006 publication. This is the first book that I can ever remember turning back to page one and starting again immediately after finishing it. It was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. I hope that even one of you finds it to be the same as a result of reading this review.

CloXhKAAn important reason this book is so near and dear to me is that David Lynch is also so near and dear to me. His voice is so distinct- I was thinking FBI Agent Gordon Cole from Twin Peaks- that it was easy to imagine him reading it . And although his voice is NOT transcendentally-meditative, it lulled me into a peaceful calm. Let’s just call it premature enlightenment.

Part of the appeal of this book is obviously learning a little bit about how David Lynch ticks. Some of its allure comes from the behind-the-scenes looks at a few of his enrapturing films. Yet another draw is Lynch’s description of transcendental meditation. I’m not quite there yet, but I am very, very interested.

At parts of the book, I found myself sitting in awe of his lessons, as if at the foot of a master teacher; at other moments, his sense of humor and his almost-childlike, brutal honesty broke the spell and snapped me out of the seriousness of it all. Those deep laughs of realization thrust me into the happiness of actual zen acceptance of the present moment, that true Buddha smile.

bloglogoAnd despite all of this praise, the true clincher for me was learning that yet another intersection of my life’s love and passion came into play: the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. This is an initiative that Lynch started when he realized how intense the stress and pressure is on kids these days. The Foundation teaches meditation techniques and with excellent results. According to Lynch (about students who have benefited from the Foundation, “Stress just doesn’t catch them; it’s like water off a duck’s back.” As an teacher and tutor, this hit so close to home. It still makes me tear up just ever-so-slightly. If I could ever get employed by this foundation I feel like I could really find my true life’s purpose. Well, probably.

I would like to share a selection from my favorite chapter, “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit.”

“When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.

I often took out this anger on my first wife. After I had been meditating for about two weeks, she came to me and said, ‘What’s going on?’ I was quiet for a moment. But finally I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And she said, ‘This anger, where did it go?’ And I hadn’t even realized that it had lifted.

I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’s suffocating, and that rubber stinks.”

Its chapters are short little snippets about his life experiences, and the book takes no time to zoom through from cover to cover.

Thank you to my friend, Lindsey, who told me about this little gem.

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Cult of Personality- The Source Family (2012)

13 Sep

SourceFamily_2000x2841_1shtWhat started as a lucrative, hip vegetarian restaurant in late-1960’s LA, led to a religious way of life for over one hundred followers in the 70’s. The Source Family documentary tells the tale of Ya Ho Wha, or Father Yod, and his transformation from a straight-laced and allegedly violent businessman to a polygamous cult leader. A unique perspective emerges as past followers are interviewed in present-day, with many seeing no harm in the crazy life they used to lead under this cult leader. What started out with seemingly reasonable life habits- healthy and organic eating, commitment to above all else do no harm, communal living and positive thinking- devolves into power-hunger, community backlash, withdrawal from society, and as Father Yod’s ex-wife, Robin, so aptly put it, “a dirty old man on a lust trip.”

And despite the obvious manipulation at play within the Source Family, it is incredible to see how former members still speak so highly of the cult and its missions- many retaining their cult-given names (Sunflower, Isis, Electricity, all with the last name Aquarian) even more than 40 years after the Family’s dissipation.

Oh the fashion!

Oh the fashion!

The incredibly raw, archival footage maintained by photographer, official Source Family member, and appointed documentarian, Isis Aquarian, gives a first-hand look into the ceremonies, rituals, daily life, and philosophies of this group. It is quite surprising that documentation was even allowed, considering how it doesn’t always cast the group or its leader in a positive light. There is also some unique insight into why exactly someone would fall for cult mentality, as well as the societal pushes and pulls in the climate of the 1960’s and 70’s family. Most notably, during a time in which fatherly love and warmth was not the customary order of the day (think Mad Men), followers with daddy issues flocked to Father Yod’s side for love and guidance.

Plus, they formed a pretty interesting psychedelic rock band, that for some reason was allowed to play California high schools during their heyday. Nowadays, their records are a coveted find for serious collectors.

Check out this far out trailer for the doc, man:

The Idiots Are Taking Over… The Revisionaries (2012)

1 Mar

If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention. Even if you are paying attention and you are pissed off, you may find yourself helpless to stop this bullet in progress.

Revisioonaries_poster_smallwave.inddI didn’t really know how Boards of Education worked until I saw Revisionaries (2012), the documentary about the Texas Board of Education and their attempts to undermine public education and textbook content in order to conform to theological and specifically Christian biblical beliefs. This doc mainly follows Don McLeroy, Creationist/Dentist who serves as chairman on the Texas State Board of Education. As you will see in the trailer, he wants to change practically everything in the world of science and social studies in public education, from ensuring that Barack Obama is always referred to including his middle name, Hussein, to removing the term “hip hop” and replacing it with “country” when referring to popular music.

Why should we care about what Texas does with their educational system, at least we who do not live in that reputably conservative state? Because Texas is the home of a great deal of our big textbook companies, the ones who write standards and curriculum for schools all over the country. What this little board decides for Texas often goes for the rest of us. Now, I don’t teach the subjects under attack in this doc, but as a Spanish teacher I can be easily affected by this conservative mindset. These are the same people who tout “Speak American!” and confuse Latin with Spanish, as many people showed in their ignorant displays of protest regarding a Vermont state motto here. I am clearly biased here, but I think foreign languages should be offered right along with math and science from the beginning, especially considering that studies show we learn language best in our formative years.

Although this movie makes my blood boil, I have to give it an A based on its importance of bringing to light an issue that affects us all.

Trailer for the film:

Netflix Documentaries for Your Snow Day(s)

6 Jan

So from what the internet is telling me, it looks like the whole world is having a snow/ice/coldness holiday today. Even many of you who are not in the education field are enjoying a day off that usually only happens if a bomb threat is called into your work (which is what I have always referred to as Adult Snow Days).

Now that you have an extra day to remain snuggled in your pajamas with your pet or your loved one(s), don’t you think it’s time to fire up your Netflix and participate in some informational movie film viewing on your new flat screen? Luckily my three-day NYE hangover has afforded me the opportunity to preview and review many of Netflix’s old and new docs for you. Here are some recommendations, in no particular order.

1. Blackfish (2013) Blackfish

You have been putting it off, or perhaps you didn’t even know it was available on Netflix streaming, but it is time to sit down and punish yourself for all the carefree hours (or days) you spent at SeaWorld in your childhood. Blackfish uncovers SeaWorld’s reckless policies when it comes to the capture and handling of orcas, and focuses in particular on Tilikum, an orca that really lives up to the killer whale nomenclature.

Somm2. Somm (2012)

I love wine, yet all I know about it is that you should drink white wine cold, it’s not technically champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region of France, and if you want to get the best Malbec, you should ensure that it originated in the Southern Cone (Argentina/Chile). I thought I was doing pretty well on my wine knowledge until I saw Somm, a documentary about some of the elite few sommeliers who put their lives on the back burner for years in order to study for, and often fail, the Master Sommelier exam. It is absolutely insane what these people have to know in order to pass. I hope this can lead to more wine parties in my future, as we attempt to recreate the “blind taste” part of the exam. “This wine tastes like a freshly opened can of tennis balls, freshly cut hose.” And for those of you who think wine is a drink that is just for women, you will be surprised at what a boys club it tends to be. Which leads me to my next recommendation…

3. Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony (2012)Bronies

Apparently I am late to the party, but until I saw this documentary, I had no idea that people flock, in the thousands, to My Little Pony conventions all over the world to join in

Abe Simpson

fellowship with Brony bretheren. This isn’t your MLP of the 80’s or 90’s, however. The (mostly) male followers of the new age of My Little Pony love it for its animation, music, and above all, the overall message of friendship and love in the show. I must admit, I still don’t really get it, but maybe I’m just getting too old. I really do appreciate the message and the vibe of these Bronies, however, and I think it’s a world worth gawking at through this doc.

ROOOS_70_M1V1.indd4. Room 237 (2012)

If you love Stanley Kubrick and/or The Shining, you’ll enjoy this documentary about the many (conspiracy?) theories that surround this masterpiece of cinema from 1980. Some of the theories presented in the documentary are downright frustrating, and remind me that I am in wayyyy over my head if I really wanted to be a film critic/analyst. It took me back to the days of high school English classes in which every little literary symbol is beaten to death as a possible reference to a Freudian nightmare. But overall, even my frustration came from a place of entertainment, and some of the theories I found quite enjoyable. My favorite one claims that the original moon landing shown on TV was actually a fake, directed by Stanley Kubrick himself. It refers to several instances in The Shining that support this conclusion. While some are far-fetched, I want to believe!

5. Kumaré (2011) Kumare

We all spend at least part of our lives pondering the existential questions of “who am I really? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why is there suffering?” etc. Some of us even seek the answers from others, often a guru, or a spiritual teacher/guide/healer. Kumaré tells the story of a “false prophet,” a man who creates his own philosophy, teachings, and spiritual practices, and then gains followers to see how far he can take it. As a viewer, I often found myself wincing at how blindly these people accepted him as a guru and prophet. Yet at the same time, he did have a virtuous message underlying this whole project, and I think that those who came out of the project without hating him for his betrayal actually learned more about themselves, life and enlightenment than many who never see the veil of their guru lifted.

Keep warm, my friends! And stay tuned for my next wintery installment of Netflix streaming and Hulu TV shows to keep you warm until the first thaw.

Lunarcy! (2012) Moon Dreamers Gotta Dream

11 Aug

lunarcyLunarcy! is a quirky documentary that zooms in on the lives of a handful of individuals whose lives revolve around the moon in different ways. These men run the gamut from Alan Bean, an astronaut-turned-artist, to Dennis Hope, a man who claims ownership to the moon (and makes a living off of selling plots on it). But by far the most interesting “character” of the documentary- for me- is Christopher Carson. This young, nerdy hopeful wants to start the first colony on the moon. He seeks to travel to that giant, grey, orbiting rock never to return to earth again. Check out his organization dedicated to this dream, called The Luna Project. After several testimonial-style interviews with Carson and his mother, you start to paint a small picture of why he is so obsessed with this dream. As she says, “He needs  a society where people like him are valued…He needs a society that accepts him. It may be that he feels that one of the ways to do that is to gather like-minded individuals and…isn’t that what we all wanna do?”

Former astronaut, Alan Bean, paints images such as this one, First Men, using actual moon dust he collected from his NASA uniform.

Former astronaut, Alan Bean, paints images such as this one, First Men, using actual moon dust he collected from his NASA uniform.

While this film is reminiscent of docs such as King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters because of its voyeurism into a sort of “nerd culture,” it doesn’t poke as much fun at its subjects. Well….maybe a little. But this movie also shows a certain amount of respect for those who have dedicated their every moment to the moon in some way or another.

Emily Kell

Emily Kell’s painting, Flowering, evokes the divine feminine at play with the moon. http://emilykell.com/

The one thing that puzzles me after watching this documentary is that it only focuses on men who are so focused on the moon. It makes me wonder where the women are who are just as fascinated in the moon; they must exist, right?  This is especially interesting to me because of the feminine associations that many cultures make with the moon. Perhaps it is the feminine allure of la luna that is subliminally driving these men to their obsession. Just a thought. It would have been an interesting reflection for the movie to make considering it also touches upon issues of autism, the defunding of the NASA space program, and the commodification of space.

And for good measure: We’re earthlings! Let’s blow up Earth things!

Dark Days (2000)

14 Apr

dark_days

Documentaries run the gamut from silly bio-docs about video gamers (i.e. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters) to change-the-way-you-live-or-die guilt trippers (Food Matters, Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, etc.). There is a place and time for each kind on the spectrum of documentaries. Sometimes you want to learn how to make a change in the world, or learn how your behavior impacts the environment, international relations or the political climate. Sometimes you want to gawk at some unusual people who are not fictional characters. Dark Days is one of those docs that falls between the two categories. It won’t make you hate life, and it’s not just a voyeuristic romp through someone’s life. This is one of my favorite documentaries to date, due, in part, to the beautiful score composed by DJ Shadow. This haunting soundtrack paired with the black and white (though mostly black) film brings an eerie feel to the whole picture.

One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days

One of the NYC underground tunnel-dwellers of Dark Days

Dark Days takes you into the humble lives of the marginalized and forgotten citizens of the New York City underground. Not some underground “scene,” but literally under the ground in the abandoned tunnels of NYC’s subway system. The living conditions of these people are unbelievable. They live in complete darkness in small makeshift shacks. Yet some of them have carved out a nice little niche for themselves, complete with meager appliances and the electricity they use to run their naked lightbulbs and small hotplates. Many aspects of this life mirror the social structure that we above-grounders enjoy. There are feuds and relationships, people have pets and set up security systems around their homes. But as you might guess, this kind of living is illegal, and many of these people are driven out of the tunnels by law enforcement.

Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes

Some more tunnel-dwellers who take us into their homes

I was happy to see that Dark Days made its way back to the Netflix Instant Streaming list. Do yourself a favor and check this one out before Netflix pulls it again. (Actually, I just found it here, on YouTube, but sometimes those get taken down as well).

Whores’ Glory (2011)

24 Mar

Whores'_Glory_(US_dvd_cover)Any documentaries involving real sex are going to draw in and intrigue viewers. Rather than being a gratuitous nudy romp, Whores’ Glory, directed by Michael Glawogger, shows the human side of the sex industry in three international cities: Bangladesh, India; Reynosa, Mexico and Bangkok, Thailand. The film focuses mainly on the women involved in sex work, their lives inside -and in some cases outside of- the brothels, and their motivation for working in this dangerous and usually degrading work. This movie is an interesting counterpoint, or perhaps more of a missing puzzle piece, to The Great Happiness Space, which focused on male escort clubs instead of female brothels.

I have studied about women in sex work before, (see Sex at the Margins by Laura María Agustín), so I was not surprised at the various factors that led these women to the sex industry. Nonetheless, the movie is a great sociological exposé about the men who receive their services, and the society that creates the contradictory climate where sex work is stigmatized and shunned, yet in high demand, as it has been since the beginning of civilized society. This film is a geographic and social dissertation in movie form, and yes, that means it gave me an academic boner. (Pun intended).

I found India to be the most eye-opening chapter in this three-part documentary. The caste system at play and the words of the informants in this chapter highlighted some key societal elements that lead to prostitution, at least in the case of Bangladesh. Though I would argue that the message extends far beyond those borders and sheds light on not only prostitution, but on a prevalent rape culture in many nations across the world. You may have noticed that we are beginning to open up dialogues about rape culture, most recently in the fore due to the Steubenville, Ohio rape case that has made headlines across the world.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned 2-digit number.

At the Fish Tank, a brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, prostitutes sit and chat behind glass while clients take their pick from the lot by calling upon them by their assigned number.

The madame of one of the Indian brothels talks about the vicious cycle that befalls women in sex work there:

This is our whole life. What else do we have? Think of my daughter. Because her mother is a whore, no one will marry her… When I am very old, I won’t be able to support her. She’ll have no choice. She’ll become a whore. The outside world pushes us out of the way to make room. Those people are our clients. Outside they are disgusted by us; in here, they love us and our bodies.

A barber in Bangladesh speaks out as an advocate of the brothels and an apologist for rape culture in India:

Without the… brothel district women couldn’t go out in the street without being molested. Men would be so horny they would rape them. Without those women, men would be screwing cows and goats.

A fascinating slew of vignettes make for an enlightening documentary for those viewers who still have an image of a crack-addicted street walker when they hear the word “prostitute,” Whores’ Glory is certainly worth the watch.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (2002)

8 Mar

VZ movie posterI have a particular interest in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and revolutionary movements of Latin America, as you may already know if you read my review on South of the Border, an Oliver Stone documentary on the topic of Chávez and Venezuela. In that review I also mentioned that there is a better doc out there that gets a little more down and dirty into the details of Chávez’s rise to power, from the 1989 Caracazo (Chávez’s failed military coup) to the 2002 political and media climate surrounding the now-deceased Hugo Chávez Frías. That documentary is The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (a.k.a. Chavez: Inside the Coup). This movie is a must-see for novices and experts alike, especially in light of Chávez’s death, and the inevitable turmoil that will come of this.

I would like to do something a little different in this post. It is less of a movie review and more of a reflection on Hugo Chávez. Just know that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is, in my opinion, the best documentary out there on Hugo Chávez, and it is available online for free (link below), so there is absolutely no excuse not to see it. Of course as the holder of a Latin American Studies MA, I am somewhat partial to keeping yourself informed with Latin American politics. But Hugo Chávez has reached throughout Latin America and beyond, right to the US and George W. Bush’s dumb face to deliver a bitch slap. His death spells uncertainty for the future of not only Venezuela.

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

Our Witness for Peace delegation in Venezuela 2008

I traveled to Venezuela on a Witness for Peace delegation. That short, 10-day trip, was an eye-opener and, dare I say, life-changer. We spoke to Venezuelans from both ends of the political spectrum, to Chávez supporters and dissenters. My overwhelming conclusion was that Chávez has done much more for Venezuela than any other president ever has or could. I will try to keep this brief, but I want to throw my two cents in on an on-going and heated debate between the pro- and anti-Chávez masses…

Venezuela is an oil-rich country. The political elites of the nation had enjoyed the profits of this wealth for decades, leaving the majority of the marginalized poor in the mire of poverty. For the most part, these old school elites are the ones who speak out against Chávez because he messed with their money, and they didn’t like that. What he did was use this oil revenue to help bring the poor out of their horrific conditions. This money was filtered into Chávez many “Misiones” or Missions, social programs that were benefactors of the Venezuelan poor. These

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela 1999-2013

missions have provided free education to children, the illiterate, and college students. They have reforested areas of the country, built and re-built ramshackle settlements in the mountains of Caracas, and brought FREE healthcare to anyone and everyone in the nation. One sight that will stay with me forever was the in-progress mission involving the lighting up of the poor hillside neighborhoods of Caracas. We landed in Caracas at night, and on our trip to our hotel we could see these communities in the distance. They started out as a speckle of yellow lights nestled in the hills. As we approached the city center, the lights became bluer and denser. The government had been providing free compact fluorescent bulbs to these communities, and along with that, electricity to many houses that did not have it previously. It was a beautiful sight that summed up the changes happening because of Chávez.

We spoke to those who had been helped by Chávez, many of them in La Bombilla, one

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

Venezuelan Barrios. Photo credit: Melissa Wales 2008

of the poorest communities in Caracas (much like the favelas of Brazil). Many of these people had framed and hung photos of the President in their homes because they loved him so much. They spoke of him as if he were family. They showed us the parts of their house that used to be made of cardboard, homes that just recently received plumbing and electricity. We visited the schools and health clinics in these neighborhoods which helped keep the community healthy and children off of the streets and put them into the classroom. I heard them sing the praises of Chávez with tears of gratitude in their eyes. Compared to the elites who spoke out against Chávez, these people seemed so much more thankful for their happiness, for what little they had all thanks to government assistance.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

I always keep my souvenir Venezuelan flag in my window.

Conclusion: Critics of Chávez were (and still are) afraid of him NOT because he is a heartless dictator who stole elections and power in Venezuela. They fear him because he took away their access to oil wealth and reallocated these riches to the nation’s poor. The US fears him because he refused to be a third world puppet to their demands. They fear him because he is not afraid of them, not afraid to call them out. I will conclude with some of my favorite Chávez quotations. Que descanse en paz, Comandante Hugo Chávez Frías.

In a 2006 speech at the UN, he said the following of George W. Bush:

“The Devil is right at home. The Devil, the Devil himself, is right in the house. And the Devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the Devil came here. Right here. [crosses himself] And it smells of sulphur still today. Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the Devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world”

On Condoleeza Rice in 2005:

“She is sexually frustrated. I could invite her on a date to see what happens between us”

Deliver Us from Evil (2006)

3 Mar

Deliver us from evilDeliver Us from Evil is a very relavent documentary in these times of Pope/Catholic Church sex scandals. This documentary gives just one example out of the many pedophilia cover-ups in the Catholic Church. It tells of the decades of child sexual abuse at the hands of Father Oliver O’Grady, and exposes how deep the coverups go within the Catholic Church. This movie includes interviews from the victims and their families, Father O’Grady and other priests, and the therapists that work to help victims of clergy sexual abuse to pick up the pieces and get their lives back.

It is tough to watch and absolutely nauseating because it is all real. O’Grady

Father O'Grady, Catholic pederast, was free to walk the streets even after admitting to sexually abusing 25+ children

Father O’Grady, Catholic pederast, was free to walk the streets even after admitting to sexually abusing 25+ children

describes, in detail, the ways in which he abused these children (as young as nine months old), and he doesn’t shed a tear, bat an eye, or convincingly express his remorse for the lives he has ruined and the crimes he committed. Throughout the movie, O’Grady is interviewed in various surroundings, including: in a church, at his home, and at a playground! You spend most of the documentary wondering how the shit is this guy able to be around children!? And then you find out, after being moved around California for decades, he was finally charged, sentenced to fourteen years in prison (he served only seven), and later deported back to Ireland, where he roams free at the time the documentary was filmed. (Yeah, I think I just threw up a little, too).

Some recent Googling has shown me that O’Grady is now incarcerated in Ireland for possession of child pornography. So much for his reformation.

Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978)

24 Feb
Koko and Penny back in the day

Koko and Penny back in the day

Yes, this might stray from my typical taste in controversial and artistic documentaries, but I came across this documentary after stumbling through a maze of YouTube videos on Koko the gorilla spurned by this video that wimp.com posted earlier this month. I started to watch the documentary, which is posted in its entirety on YouTube, thinking that I would grow tired of it before long, but I didn’t.

What really kept me engaged throughout a documentary on a gorilla that knows sign language was not the title character at all. It was actually Penny Patterson, Koko’s researcher and caretaker, who caught my interest. Penny plays a major role in this documentary without being the focus. She is treated as

A more recent photo of Koko and Penny

A more recent photo of Koko and Penny

an auxiliary character, someone the documentary may have left out had Koko truly been able to speak to the cameras for herself. But quick snippets about Penny made me interested in her life -or lack thereof. It seemed to me that she has made many personal sacrifices in order to dedicate her life to Koko. It seemed sad to me because I live a life that thrives on human relationships; interestingly enough, Penny does not seem to feel that she is missing out on anything.

Koko: A Talking Gorilla is not a mind-blowing documentary that exposes dark truths, but there are still some underlying messages and unanswered questions that arise after watching it. While these cater more to an animal rights message, there is still a secret human interest piece present. It makes me want to watch more documentaries from the 60’s and 70’s to see if they are all so much different from modern-day docs. It definitely seems more polished and candy-coated than the ones I am privy to. If you have any suggestions of older documentaries that you have enjoyed, I would love to have your input. The only one that comes to mind is Grey Gardens, which I should be writing a review about sometime soon.