Jack Black show us BERNIE

I’ve never been much for mockumentaries.  People talking to the camera bores me.  I like action and narrative drive or non-linear weird storytelling and epiphany.

I went to see Bernie anyway.

I have always been ambivalent about Jack Black.  I have seen him on late night television with a raging cold and he was still the funniest interview ever.  I’ve also seen him in School of Rock (shoot me, I was having a bad day and wanted pure escapism) and that terrible movie The Holiday, in which Kate Winslet wiped everyone off the screen (see my last blog about British actors…and I forgot to mention her!  Sorry Kate!  I’m in love with you, too!).  It’s clear Jack Black’s comedic talents are off the charts, and just as clear he can’t connect with another actor to save his life.

But I read the reviews, and it was well-received, so I went.  And you know, it was a great role for Jack Black!  Yes, he could have cut a little deeper with his emotional reality, but he wasn’t required to actually connect with anyone in most scenes, and his character work and physicality were pretty stellar.  Every once in a while you get reminded that certain roles can play to an actor’s strengths and help you to forget his very big weaknesses.

Of course, none of the actors including Shirley MacLaine could compete with the real folks from Texas making their debut in this movie.  I truly thought they were all real and all knew Bernie Tiede.  Their turns of speech, their prejudices, the view into small town Texan life stole the movie.  The relationship between Bernie and Marjorie doesn’t have enough depth to compete.

Did I like the movie?  It’s hard to like something so disturbing.  I think it’s worth seeing, that it’s darkly funny, and that the real Texans are wonderful.  I think Jack Black’s character work was excellent, even though I never forgot for a second he was acting.  I think that Shirley MacLaine has had a hell of a lot of plastic surgery.

And I think that it’s unfortunate that I understand too well the insecurities of a woman who believes she is not worthy of being loved and so controls away the only love being offered….and a man who needs so desperately to be liked that he puts up with her abuse until the rage inside him explodes and he has to kill her.  There is a lot of all of us in these extremes, and I wish the movie had dug deeper, made it funnier, made us see more deeply.  We get shown a lot of presentational scenes and the meaning of those scenes is clear.  But movies and movie acting are usually much richer in subtlety, and no genre can do subtlety as well as black comedy…a genre I love, love, love.

See the movie.  Decide which character you are.  And then squirm for a while.  That’s always a good time.

People I Am in Love with Starting with…

Judi Dench.  It cannot be overstated:  I am madly, truly, deeply, emphatically, insanely in love with Judi Dench.

Nevermind that she’s my favorite actress and has been for like, eternity.  I also think she’s the most beautiful woman in the world.  I say this after going to see The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel last night, and falling deeply under the spell of her warmth, grace and inner beauty yet again.  And that laugh!  That easy, affectionate, joyous, so-willing-to-enjoy-and-be amused laugh.  I mean, yes, she’s still wonderful to look at–that white hair, blazing blue eyes, tanned skin (she’s in India) and incredible bone structure.  (And I love the wardrobe.) But really, she has what I wish Meryl Streep had, which is more humanity than she can possibly hold in her own skin.  She fills the screen with it, and it is a humanity so rich in love that I leave every performance glad I belong to the species.

Like I said, it cannot be overstated.

As for the movie, it’s too sweet, and the characters are types, and you know, in this case, those things just don’t matter.  India, as a character, as a world, is so fascinating, and these veteran actors are just so damn good, all you care about is watching them do magic.  That much talent in one movie is something to swoon over.  Plus, think how good they’d have to be for me to forgive the director (John Madden, Shakespeare in Love) for taking the camera off Dame Judi for a flat second (and he has directed her again and again, lucky him).

Really, this blog is just an excuse to revel in talking about my major talent and humanity crush on Dench, so I might as well just say her name about 50,000 times and get it over with.

Or I could say that I just prefer British actors to American.  And fine, there are some youngish actors I really like, like Maggie Gyllenhaal (her brother’s not bad either), Mark Ruffalo (his performance in You Can Count on Me is still one of the best I’ve ever seen), Michael C. Hall (my favorite actor from 6 Feet Under and so deserving of his role on Dexter, which requires such range), Vera Farmiga, not to mention Viola Davis, who is my favorite American actor and has the humanity that Dench has but also a stream of real rage, sadness and passion in her roles.  I like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini as well and I even like Sandra Bullock and Selma Hayek (so under-rated, think Frida).

But then think of Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith…or the less well known Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Idris Elba or Ruth Wilson (these last two from Luther, and they are great together and Ruth Wilson is AMAZING and absolutely to watch.  The problem is that for the most part, you put any American actor next to one from the UK and the American may look talented, but he or she often also looks immature, not so well-layered, not so committed, and definitely not as generous to his or her ensemble.  It’s very difficult to find a single American movie with the uniform level of excellence in acting we find in all of the major league television and film from the UK.

I’m not an Anglophile.  I may be a Judi Dench-ophile, but you know, love is love.  I’d really love to know what they’re doing over there that we’re missing, or is just that pop culture undermines the deeper values of making cinema or any art form.  (Of course it does in this country.  Hollywood sucks.)

Anyhow, back to Judi.  And back.  And back.  See the movie.  I’ll probably be there, at the Kendall, swooning, even though my partner is jealous, so it will have to be when she’s at work.

And look for my upcoming blog on Yo-Yo Ma who I saw on PBS doing the Goat Rodeo Sessions and fell for immediately and again.  The man is made of joy. As with Dame Judi, I’d just like to sit in a room with him and absorb that through my skin.  He wouldn’t even have to say hello.  (Which is good, because he probably wouldn’t.)

Bring Rita Hayworth to Boston!

When I go to the theatre I go in search of a particular experience.  I want to be transported to another world, I want to see myself in new ways, I want to be visually and imaginatively stimulated, I want to understand the world differently.

In other words, I’m not easy to please.

So the idea that I could sit in my living room, watching the DVD of a theatrical performance and experience all of those things is, well, unlikely.

And yet it happened.  And it happened watching a one-woman show, less likely still.

Tina D’Elia’s new show, The Rita Hayworth of This Generation, introduces its audience to a cast of scheming and manipulative characters who end up, surprisingly, charming us with the pleasure of their company.  Whether it’s Carmelita, the cabaret singer and Rita Hayworth impersonator who wants only to make it big, or Jesus, the transgender poker champion who wants a lucky lady, or Rita Hayworth, who just wants out of purgatory, or the despicable Kelsey, host of the shows Stars that Are Living, Stars that are Dying and Stars that are dead…or even Angel, the Prop Butch, the show’s only sweetheart, we want more–more revelation, more laughs, more sex (yes, there is sex in a one-woman show!).  D’Elia and her director, Mary Guzman, have created a hysterically funny play that reveals human ambition in all its selfishness…and how we want our lovers to serve this ambition rather than any sense of intimacy.  But it is too smart a show to exclude moments of real humanity, the rarity of true generosity between human beings and the importance of that generosity in finding meaning as we grow, perhaps, awkwardly and humorously wiser.  Carmelita, the wrong-headed and unlucky heroine of the story, is perhaps the most blind of the characters when it comes to recognizing real caring–but our frustration with her only intensifies our involvement with the story and our understanding of its meaning.

Tina D’Elia’s magic as a performer is that there are times when one is able to forget there’s only a single actor on stage.  Whether in the first seduction scenes, where the desire she portrays is absolutely palpable, or in scenes in which Jesus tries to convince Carmelita to trust him, her commitment and imaginative reality are so strong that one can’t help but fall under the play’s spell.  Her work is supported by Mary Guzman’s skillful use of lighting and blocking to support the many character changes.  And let’s get real, in a one-woman show with actual back-and-forth dialogue, this is extremely hard to do.  The slight shift of a shoulder and angle of D’Elia’s body work best during dialogue scenes, but one always follows and enjoys the changes of characters.

Let me not neglect to mention the magical realism of the play.  I have long ranted about realism in theatre, and how film does realism best, so theatre better have some real innovation if it wants to stay in the game.  Well, this is a play in which characters travel to a special room in the casino to meet and play cards with dead stars.  I mean, really, when a transgendered poker champion sits down to deal in with the Three Stooges…come on, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Of course, the play is not quite perfect–D’Elia’s acting portrayal of Carmelita’s cabaret singer physicality is excellent, but her singing needs work; and the end of the play ties up all the plot questions too neatly without answering the most important–how does Carmelita author her own loneliness even after getting some degree of what she wants as a singer?  But not quite perfect does not mean that it is not excellent–in fact, it is.

Tina D’Elia is a Boston native, and I, for one, think we deserve to get to see her show live in this town.  Not only that–we need the show.  Boston theatre got a jolt of aliveness when Diane Paulus came to town, but we need edgy new voices and this is one of them.

As an acting teacher interested in helping people to create their own work, I also feel that great examples of one-person shows would and could ignite a renaissance of a genre that has been largely absent in Boston since the Theatre Offensive stopped producing Out on the Edge.

Sometimes, it’s just the right thing, the right time, the right show.


The Queen of Polish OR “I” Statements and Going Easy on the Stork’s Swan Song

I am suave, smooth.  I communicate elegantly.  In other words, our breakup with the Stork couples therapist (ongoing) started last night with a bit of, well, ahimsa.  And panache.  And f*&(ing “I” statements.

We started the conversation like this:

Me:  (To my partner.)  You’re on.

My partner:  Uh.

Me:  Uh?

My partner: Um.

Me:  (Pause, looking at her.)

My partner:  (Pause, looking at me.)

Me:  I guess I’ll go.

Then I proceeded to communicate my experience, including my doubts, questions, mistrust, self-questioning, without once blaming the Stork for being an insane person.  I periodically turned the topic over to my partner:

Me:  So it’s your turn.

My partner:  Uh.

Me:  Are you stuck?

My partner:  (To the Stork.)  I just want to blame it all on you.

Stork:  I can take it.

Me (thinking silently):  That is one big fat lie.

My partner:  Uh.  Um.  (She looks at me.)

Me:  Still stuck?

My partner:  Uh-huh.

Me:  Allow me.

Then I again talked about my own experience in a very moderate and adult way while steering the conversation to solutions without directly suggesting any.  We ended with the Stork encouraging us to interview other therapists while still seeing him, so we weren’t left in the lurch (read:  homicidal and very anti-ahimsa with each other) in the meantime.  Which was pretty much my goal, and I do usually get what I want when I’m all elegant, polished, kind and focused on ahimsa.  (Is it really ahimsa?  If I’m getting what I want?)

Of course, now that I’m back to doing the John Sarno investigation of my unconscious and apparently limitless homicidality, clearly such elegance also results in BACK PAIN, which is not ahimsa at all, since I end up suffering.

And there you have it.  The bind of all existence.

I have said this before:  The shadow must have its day.

I’ve been having epiphany moments about my new life–you know, the one I’m fantasizing about in between doing 7 million hours of yoga and reading the Yoga Sutras of Patajali as well as texts on Buddhism.  And it all comes down to this–yoga, religion, meditation…isn’t it all about turning us into good little boys and girls?  I mean, really, all that higher self and elegance is just so….boring.

Mind you, lock me in a room with someone possessed by criticism and blame and I’ll get on my ahimsa high horse in a flat second.  It’s more the impossibility of eradicating sin, or the animal part of our natures, our primal emotions, that concerns me.

I think of the Meisner technique at its most advanced best, when the humanity of two actors collides without barriers–and there is love, joy, sexuality, rage, pain, hurt, flirting.  People have said things to me in the repetition exercise that brought me to the point of shaking with fear or angry enough to hit, and then afterward I felt so close to them.  If it had been life, I’d probably have made sure I never saw the person again.  It’s the safe container of the creative world and the exercise itself that allows all parts of the self–dark and light–full expression.   That’s where the creative closeness comes from.  Especially if you’re in the service of story, expression, meaning.

We just don’t seem to be able to allow for that full expression anywhere else.  There’s such danger of really damaging each other.  So it’s all about controlling, containing and civilizing.  The problem is that while those things are important–who wants violence or verbal abuse in their life?–there’s a tendency for them to actually feed the rage and pain that lies underneath bad behavior.  The standards expressed by religion, or therapy–speak only in “I” statements (therapy), be only peaceful, follow these rules, calm the mind…can’t undo our inherent messiness, and when these rules are imposed with rigidity, the shadow grows stronger and in need of expression.

I’m mostly messy with my partner.  Sometimes I say, “I just really need to be bad right now.”  Then I jump on her and tickle her and she makes jokes about how long this particular fit will last and will she survive it.

Sometimes I come home from a day of successfully practicing ahimsa and I say, “Oh my God, I’ve been so mature today I think I’m going to die.”  Then I throw myself down on the yoga mat and writhe for a while.

I frequently announce that I need attention or that I’m about to show off or that I’d like to kill x, y, or z.

I do not say these things as examples anyone should follow.  It’s just that balance, moment to moment messiness, is a goal for me.  I’m either a paragon or a very very bad, rebellious teenager trapped in a much older body.  (My partner would say that I am vastly over-estimating my age.  She’d vote for 5 years old trapped in a much larger body.)

Spirituality, calm and beauty are things I love, but I know, truly, madly, deeply, that the shadow, the unhealed, the unexpressed, must rise up, and it’s better if I find a place of welcome for it than if I try to make it go away or pretend it never existed in the first place.

Think of Right Wing Christians, so invested in their own goodness that hatred and intolerance dominate their lives.

Being human is tricky.

This morning I helped my partner write an email about a conflict she’d had with some people.  Her first draft was stilted–non-blaming, but disorganized and hard to understand.  We had this conversation about how when she doesn’t criticize other people, she gets blocked on what to say.  So I helped her with the email (a little overbearingly…and yes, that is an invented word) and we looked at it.  The paragraph I’d written as an example was very polished.  You’d never know how devastated and triggered she was.  And indeed, polish is a mask for hurt feelings, for feeling less than, a way to hide when you’re afraid other people will use your own vulnerability against you.  We were like, “Wow, we are such opposites!”  (We realize this about every other hour or so.)  I keep people at a distance when I’m all elegant and “I” statements or when I’m too reactive/rebellious for life.  My partner keeps people at a distance by being too messy  or being silent because she’s afraid of being messy.

And so I wonder–what is the true path to awakening?  It cannot only be meditating and being oh-so-perfect.  And then I remember my Western meditation teachers warning that meditating your feelings away is called repression, not awakening.  Meditation is about knowing, investigating and holding all the feelings while recognizing that they are not you.  It’s a way to get bigger than your own experience, and so to have more choices.

In Internal Family Systems (my partner’s obsession) this would be about being able to tell the difference between an internal Manager (like the Queen of Polish) and Self (the true compassionate center that can communicate honestly about all other parts and all feelings).

I can deconstruct anything, so let me say that trying to be in Self all the time then becomes the perfection to avoid.*

But.  But.  The Queen of Polish manages the world of communication with skill and panache.  Self, the true heart, the bigger, meditated Lyralen is actually more vulnerable.  And much more accessible to other people and the world.

And therefore to be avoided at all costs.

Just kidding.

I think.

*To give Dick Schwartz his due, he does say that healthy couples live in a state of play in which different parts of who they are come and go without fear.

Starting Over

Sometime in the last couple months I started thinking about the whole concept of fresh start, starting over, re-imagining myself, re-creating my life.  I was obsessively watching Netflix tv and got caught up in the show Break-Out Kings, which is about convicts, who, of course, want to start over more than anything.

Then at Spirit Rock they had this book on display: Emotional Chaos to Clarity:  How to Live More Skillfully, Make Better Decisions, and Find Purpose in Life.  I wrote about Right Intention (part of what Moffitt talks about in the book).  Now I’m into his next section on starting over.

I sometimes say, to the people I am closest to, that I have reincarnated 4 or 5 times in this very lifetime.  So I’m hardly new to starting over.  The longing for a different life, or a new one, or some dream of a another country, or a promise I made to myself when I was a child of how things would be different when I grew up and had more choices, has often driven my decisions.  I have, in my life, wanted desperately to get away from things–relationships, bad jobs, voicelessness, violence, poverty, to name a few.

Those are the big starting overs.

Sometimes, I just wanted to feel better, more peaceful, more accepting of my lot in life, sometimes I wanted to be able to love more deeply, to be kinder, less judgmental, less reactive.

Sometimes I just wanted some particular pain or level of pain to go away.

It seems intimate to say these things, but really, is there anyone alive who hasn’t wanted some, if not all of them?  I mean, I do sometimes believe I am cursed (or blessed, it’s not clear) with the fate of having to experience everything in life, from the worst darkness to the most ecstatic joy, but that could be just terminal uniqueness (as they say in 12 step programs), though to tell you the truth, I don’t really think so.  I think I am on this experience-everything track and some people, luckily, perhaps, are not.

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking of the words “new start” with a kind of longing.  So, presto-changeo, this book shows up.  And, since it is based in Buddhism and Vipassana meditation, it talks in depth about starting over in meditation as a practice that can be extended into the rest of life.  Because in meditation we just wander and come back, wander and come back, over and over again, ad infinitum (which I can testify to, since I am back to meditating every day, something I couldn’t do for months after my friend died).

Moffitt says that starting over can be a practice, that once you set your intentions (I set mine as kindness, honesty, ahimsa, radical self-acceptance, etc a few blogs back), you can use a gentle, non-judgmental mindfulness to be aware of when you stray, and then just stop and start over like you do in meditation.  Starting over can be a practice moment-to-moment.

I kind of like that.

And in the meantime, though I read only the very beginning of Living with Your Heart Wide Open while standing in the Spirit Rock bookstore, its statements about critical self-talk and how we treat ourselves has echoed in my head while I’ve been reading the Moffitt book (and the yoga homework Eastern philosophy how we treat ourselves on the mat stuff).

Incidentally, my partner and I have started over.  We haven’t really called it that, but we made an agreement to do a couples spiritual practice and to make that the foundation of our relationship since couples therapists are all crazier than we are.  I notice a difference.  It’s very uncomfortable, because she’s asked me to be more open, and even the meditating together and the communication and restorative yoga, and, the, dare I say it?, prayer to an unnamed whoever/whatever, are so very not something I’m used to sharing with another human being especially the one who’s been driving me crazy for 24 years, 11 months and 7 days.

Anyhow, for myself, I’m thinking of starting over as something other than a move to another coast or another country.  As I read, as I study yoga, as I see my partner change, I think there are more radical things to do than a shift in geography.  I may move, it depends on what my intuition tells me, but for right now, the starting over has to be in this moment, right now.

And it occurs to me, as the eldest daughter from an Irish/German Catholic family, with an overburdened sense of responsibility and guilt, that the do-over I am looking for is forgiveness.  Forgiveness, first of all, for Don’s death.  Yes, I realize I did not cause his appendicitis and the following complications, but his medical treatment was less than stellar and I kept thinking there was something I could do, should be able to do, because I always think that, even when I am showing up, and being kind, which I did, around his death.  I know I did.  But that doesn’t seem to matter in the world of reactive emotions and psychological patterning that too often make up my inner life.  I see myself as responsible, always.  It’s knee-jerk, and painful, and not at all useful in living my life.  And it dogs me.  No amount of making fun of it causes it to disappear.  No amount of anything has made it disappear, ever.

So.  I start over.  And my practice, mostly of ahimsa, because that feeling of responsibility is a self-violence, is to spend a few minutes a day saying, “I forgive you,” as my mantra, while I meditate.

I have decided that the I forgive you is my get-out-of-jail -free card.  I can forgive myself for all the things that were never my fault, that I never should have felt responsible for, as well as my deepest flaws, my terrible mistakes, the ways I’ve let myself and other people down.  I can forgive myself.  Period.

And then suddenly all the humor blows away, and what is left is compassion.  I have done a very good job with an impossible beginning, and the failures are okay.  I didn’t know there would be failures.  I didn’t know that not reaching goals was a possibility.  And I can just sit and forgive and feel my connection to everyone alive, because really, we know so little.  Our ideas about life grow from family, movies, television, books, dreams, insanity, hurt, impossible hopes.  We do terrible things to each other.  We are incredibly kind.  I am of us, I am us, we are one.

Buddhism and yoga teacher training.  A random book on a shelf.

The truth is, I’m on this journey because it’s just so interesting.  The grief must be lifting because once again, I just want to see what happens next.

(Okay, I know what happens next: lunch.  But I’m not sure what I’m going to put in the maki rolls, so there’s always something unexpected.  Carrots or red pepper?  Is the avocado ripe?  Think I’ll go check.)

And, gotcha.

Just for the hell of it.

If I Do Yoga Am I Hindu?

Because let’s face it, yoga is a Hindu tradition.  A fact I’ve been in denial about for, well, an embarrassing amount of time.

Of course, the denial helped with the simple fact that all I really know about Hinduism is that it is, or was, the major religion of India (until forced Muslim conversion), and that it related strongly to the Brahmins.  I also had learned somewhere that the Brahmins are the highest level of hierarchy in the Indian caste system (a commonly known fact here in Boston where we refer to rich old money people as Boston Brahmins).  Since I am absolutely anti-authority and fairly anti-hierarchy not to mention a member of 3 minority groups and completely identified with the underdog and counterculture movements…and since I fell in love with yoga from my first experience of the practice, well, suffice it to say that all human denial has a purpose.  I just didn’t want to examine the roots of yoga too deeply.

Now, of course, I’m in yoga teacher training, so whoooooooossshhhh, there goes the denial.  Not that the training addresses the social inequities in India or the poverty or how religion played a part in social hierarchy.  It doesn’t.  But being me, and having been fully bit by the yogic bug, and therefore wanting to know everything, I’ve started to read outside the training and to really investigate Eastern religions.

That this fits nicely into the self-study of Buddhism I started last year seems bizarrely uncoincidental, but it is, nevertheless, an adventure, because I have no idea where what I’m studying will take me.

I have learned that Indian religions and religious history is a tangle.  People kept revising the religion and inventing new branches.  Because of this, the crossovers between the yogic school of Hinduism and Buddhism are immediately noticeable, not to mention that the Buddha was, after all, raised in a Hindu society with Hindu beliefs.  But get this, from Wikipedia:

Hinduism does not have a “unified system of belief encoded in declaration of faith or a creed“,[50] but is rather an umbrella term comprising the plurality of religious phenomena originating and based on the Vedic traditions.

The characteristic of comprehensive tolerance to differences in belief, and Hinduism’s openness, makes it difficult to define as a religion according to traditional Western conceptions. To its adherents, Hinduism is the traditional way of life, and because of the wide range of traditions and ideas incorporated within or covered by it, arriving at a comprehensive definition of the term is problematic.

Apparently there are Vedic, or Brahmanic traditions and anti-Vedic traditions (yoga being one of these), and I just have way too much to learn to say anything else about this.  Except that any religion that can’t define itself can’t be all bad, so studying yoga is okay with me.

Of course, I won’t become a Hindu or a Buddhist.  I mean, I couldn’t even join a Unitarian Church when that was my practice.  Blame my freak of a cultish family.  I am emphatically not a joiner.  I am, for example, an Independent because I don’t like the political parties in this country.  Of course, that’s just sane.

Anyhow, more to come on yoga and being or not-being a Hindu, Buddhist, yogi or whatever.

I am on a mission of understanding.  I always kind of wanted a degree in comparative religions and this is probably as close as I’ll come.  I don’t need the degree.  I just want to learn stuff.  As always.

Clarity or What the ?

My partner told me that my last blog on Right Intention is hard to follow.  This makes perfect sense since I was working from a book that has the words “mental clarity” in the title.  Obviously, I need to be reading the book.

Basically, the books says that Right Intention is automatic, that it is the living of values in each moment, and that if you set your own intention, and then get some peace with your unruly mind, you will be more authentic.

Like all books about Buddhism, it clearly states that we are not our thoughts, feelings, personal history, profession or anything other than a moment in time, a sensory experience, or, in this case, an intention.

I told my partner today that I think personality is a construct derived totally or almost totally from conditioning.  Personality is not a self, it’s not who we are.  It’s a series of disguises built to withstand the pressures of life in this world.

I’m not sure if living in a centered presence and modulating our own craziness with a set of automatic intentions is really a self.  I’ll have to let you know.

But I hope this clears up any misunderstanding about what I was talking about before.  I hardly ever really know what I’m talking about, and I may be a figment of my own imagination anyhow, so I wouldn’t really worry about it if I were you.  (That means you, Ms. Criticism of My Clarity.)