We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mostly Musical

Fall                                                                         Harvest Moon

Wow. Had a lot on my mind yesterday. Sorry about the length. More yet, too.

Alan, Jamie, Tara

Alan, Jamie, Tara

Anyhow. Met with Tara yesterday. Director of Education at Beth Evergreen. I said, Help. She gave me lots of ideas on classroom management, help. She’s delightful. Bright. Straightforward. Open. An example. How you arrange the classroom is very important. Oh yeah? Where the kids sit, what’s on the table when they come in. Having a separate table for attendance. A close by table for snacks. OK. Would never have occurred to me.

Later in the day Kate and I went to see Funny Girl. It was interesting, very, comparing the tech rehearsal we saw a week ago Wednesday with the full production. The show yesterday had none of the rough edges we saw then. Props ended up in their places. And there were a lot of prop changes. Lines were crisp and the dancing, singing were good, too. It went on about an hour too long for me, but I’m not a fan of musicals. The first act had energy, pop. The second act had some, but to my tired butt, not as much.

Stage ready for act II

Stage ready for act II

Musicals are the cotton candy of the theater world, at least most of them. Lots of sugar, easy to consume, then all that’s left is sticky fingers. I came out humming People Who Need People, so there’s that. I guess I’m more of a drama guy. Beckett. Friel. O’Neill. Wilson. Kushner. Still, it was a nice change up.

Also, it was community theater. Not the high production values of the Guthrie, for example, but pretty good. And the casting depends on a limited pool of volunteers though in spite of that the voices and acting abilities were even better than pretty good.

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice

The director had some great ideas about staging, including opening and closing scenes that showed the cast playing to backstage on which was painted a theater. We were back stage ourselves, watching them perform. That meant the entire story took place between opening and closing of one of Fanny’s shows. A show between shows about show business. A bit of a fun house mirror effect.

One especially nice piece of staging was a solo by Fanny, leaning on the piano. Behind Fanny and the piano, in half light, a couple danced. It was a view (at least I saw it this way.) inside her mind as she sang. The effect was wonderful.

FannyBrice1c.jpg2We knew people in the cast, saw folks we knew in the lobby, and were greeted by the costumer as we left. He remembered us from our visit to the tech rehearsal. In other words this was also a moment of immersion in community, our community. That’s not the same as a visit to the Guthrie or to Broadway, but has lots of other, ancillary benefits.

Back home at 6:30 (it started at 3:00!) I made Kate a fatty meal for her gall bladder ultrasound today. Oh, boy, another procedure.

Finished the Netflix limited series Maniac last night. You have to have a quirky aesthetic to like it, but I did. It may bear watching a second time. Lots in it and a great cast: Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, for example.

Crazy Rich

Lughnasa                                                           Waning Summer Moon

crazy rich asiansWe saw Crazy Rich Asians yesterday. A romcom with Chinese actors. Set in Singapore for the most part so it was not inappropriate for everyone to be speaking English. Handy for us.

Nirvana

Nirvana

Fun for Kate and me since we visited Mary there in 2016 after Joe and Seoah’s wedding. Many familiar sights. They did miss an opportunity however in not using Nirvana. It’s as over the top as any of the homes and clubs featured in the movie.

I liked it. Not sure I’d have seen it if it didn’t have the Singapore/Chinese thing going on. Romcoms are pretty formulaic and this one was, too. The usual, oh no they’re never going to get together, yes they will, no they won’t, oh they did. Yeah.

Going to the movies

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

In the spirit of the holiday weekend I’m relaxing before school starts, religious school that is. Getting ready has occupied my mind on some level every day since mid-June. Now that Alan and I have a plan, I’m giving myself these three days as a break. Feels great.

Yesterday Kate and I went to BlacKkKlansman. I’m sure many of you who read this have seen it, so we’re a little late. Several folks from Beth Evergreen have seen it. The story is a bit thin. The KKK in Colorado Springs was not historically significant and though hateful were, even as presented in the film, inept. What Spike Lee has done is take that thin story and use it as the core of a biting criticism of the Trumpstate and the folks he encourages.

He begins with a satirical short film of Alec Baldwin playing a fictitious race “scholar.” He also includes clips from Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation, both of which smuggle in a great deal of cultural commentary on race relations and the historical context that created and sustains white supremacist ideology. He also has several Trump related jibes. For example, after a Klan initiation ceremony, David Duke has a screening of Birth of a Nation. The berobed stand up and shout “America First!” According to a Colorado Springs reporter at the time, Nancy Johnson, this happened. There were also references to making America great again.

The Adam Driver character was not Jewish in reality, so Spike Lee’s casting of him as Jewish was a vehicle for commentary on anti-semitism. Driver’s comments about being raised as a secular Jew who had not thought much about his heritage are a critique of passing, whether by blacks or Jews. The frisson between Stallworth’s blackness, which undergoes a transformation when he goes undercover to a Stokely Carmichael, by this time Kwami Ture, speech and Driver’s gradually emergent Jewish consciousness was a key feature of the film for me.

The film does not end in the Stallworth era Colorado Springs. Instead Lee cuts to actual footage from the “Unity” march for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Included are several different perspectives of James Alex Fields Jr driving his silver Dodge Charger into a crowd of counter protesters and killing Heather Heyer. Following those news clips and cell phone videos are scenes from Trump’s infamous, “There were good people on both sides.” reaction to those events.

A profound scene, which interlaces with the Klan initiation in which Adam Driver participates as Stallworth, has Harry Belafonte sitting in a Huey Newton chair, telling the story of the  lynching of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas in 1916.

The ongoing satirical edge of the film, begun with the Alec Baldwin short, lulls the viewer into the same sort of “oh these buffoons aren’t a serious threat.” mentality that pervades our cultural perception of not only the Klan but other white supremacists, too. Until, that is, we see Fields’ Dodge Charger smash into unprotected protesters. Until we see our President giving aid and comfort not to the victims but to the perpetrators. Then we’re forced to go back and consider Scarlett O’Hara wending her way through wounded Confederate soldiers and the blackfaced actors in the Birth of a Nation footage. We’re forced to consider that the America First shouts with the right arm salutes was not an artifact of an era now past, but with us now and not only with us now, but with us at the highest levels of our government.

The other turn that the movie makes is the implicit correlation between the America Love it or Leave it slogans embraced by the Klan and the same cultural tensions existing now. The era of the 1960’s lives on. Here’s a quote from a woman I know, an email she sent after I commented on a friend’s positive post about this movie:

Unless i have misinterpreted your comment on Ron S.’s FB, I didn’t know you are anti our country, our flag, and no doubt have always been. If so, how come you and the others are not moving to another country? Seems hypocritical that you all are still here. To me, this is not at all free speech ala the 1st Amendment.

 

Bao

Lughnasa                                                                  Waning Summer Moon

If you haven’t seen Incredibles 2, and you probably haven’t if you don’t have children or grandchildren in the right age range, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. It’s actually a pretty good movie. But not my emphasis here. Rather, the short before it, Bao.

Controversial. Here’s a story about it, complete with spoilers that in this case I think are fine. I’d forgotten about the controversy. I read about it shortly after Incredibles 2 came out in the middle of June, and was intrigued, as I always am by cultural disjunction, cultural difficulties. But it went into the forget pile near some neuron or another.

bao

bao

Then I saw it yesterday with Gabe. It features a Chinese mother who makes dumplings. One of the dumplings comes to life and she raises him as her child. It’s a sweet story at first, then the dumpling becomes obstinate, wants to make his own choices. Finally, in the controversial moment, the dumpling has come home with a blond white woman. He packs his bags and starts to go out the door following his woman friend. The mother grabs him, pulls him back inside. You expect some kind of tearful resolution, hugs, then the mature dumpling goes away with his woman friend. Nope. She eats him.

bao2OMG! What just happened? It was shocking and I missed the point. Sort of. In a couple of scenes after this a dumpling like son comes home with the same woman who led the dumpling out the door. I took this to mean that the woman had somehow reconciled with the dumpling and he’d grown up. The eating in my understanding was a symbol of the difficulties inherent in the moment children become independent.

bao-short-film-meaning-twitter-response-1

a link to this article

Turns out I was sort of right. But sort of not. As I now understand it, the mother actually ate the anthropomorphized dumpling. This expressed a mutual feeling of distress that Chinese mothers and their children have in U.S. culture. U.S. culture says leave at 18 and make your way in the world. Chinese culture says, live at home until you’re married and then, don’t go too far away. Though the leaving at age 18 in American mainstream culture (or, what used to be American mainstream culture), is fraught with similar issues, independence pushing away from interdependence, the expectation is that independence becomes a vehicle from which a new form of interdependence will arise. In Bao the dumpling eating shows the powerful rejection of that possibility in traditional Chinese culture, though I imagine the one-child policy in China has forced a new way of thinking in the home country.

Anyhow. Worth seeing. Always worth reflecting on cultural differences, worth learning from them. No rights or wrongs. Just differences that express the many possible responses to the ancientrail of humans in community and family and in ourselves.

Fangs and Claws

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

twilightModern technology is so wonderful. Over the last few days I watched all five of the much maligned Twilight movies. You might ask why, at 71, I would subject myself to all those teen hormones, questionable dialogue, and odd acting. First answer, I’m easily entertained.  Second answer, I’m revising Superior Wolf right now. Werewolves from their source. Also, a project I work on from time to time is Rocky Mountain Vampire. So, the Twilight saga is in the same genre as my own work, though aimed more at a young adult, tween to teen audience. Which is, I might add, a very lucrative market. Maybe, it just occurred to me, some of them will be interested in my work as a result of their exposure to the Twilight books and movies.

20180711_065526The supernatural is a dominant theme in my life, from religion to magic to ancient myths and legends to fairy tales and folklore. My world has enchantment around every bend, every mountain stream, every cloud covered mountain peak. No, I don’t know if there are faeries and elves and Shivas and Lokis and witches who eat children. I don’t know if anyone ever set out on a quest for the golden fleece or angels got thrown out of heaven. Don’t need to. We wonder about what happens after death, a common horror experience often and always. If we’re thoughtful, we wonder about what happened before life. Where were we before?

670HandbookAfterlifeOur senses limit us to a particular spectrum of light, a particular range of sounds, a particular grouping of smells and tastes, yet we know about the infrared, low and high frequency sounds, the more nuanced world of smells available to dogs. We’re locked inside our bodies, yet we know that there are multiverses in every person we meet, just like in us. We know we were thrown into a particular moment, yet know very little of the moments the other billions of us got thrown into. My point is that our understanding of the natural is very, very limited, in spite of all the sophisticated scientific and humanistic and technological tools we can bring to bear. Most of what exists is outside our usual understanding of natural, certainly outside our sensory experience.

The expanse of the wonderful, the awesome, the amazing, so vast even in our small human experience, is cosmic outside of it. That’s where the supernatural realm lies. Not only Just So stories, then, but What If stories, too.

Sure, there are gothic stories, horror stories, fantasy that are poorly conceived, poorly written and poorly executed. I’ve contributed to that slush pile, but at the same time there are stories of the supernatural that allow us to get outside our human chauvinism, to imagine, to wonder. The part of me that loved the Ring cycle as a fourteen year old enjoyed Tolkien, King, Wickham, Kostova, and Clarke.

I have a sophisticated, adult aesthetic, too, and I enjoy it; but, I don’t see why I have to leave behind my more childlike appreciation of things like Marvel Comics, the Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, Hunger Games. So, I haven’t. My inner tween/teen needs screen time, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Black Panther

Imbolc                                                                        New Life Moon

Black-Panther-Cast-Marvel-Featured-Image-1024x639Kate took one for the team yesterday. She went to see Black Panther with me. I had two reasons for wanting to see it. One, it’s a Marvel Studio movie and, god help me, I really like them. Most of them. Two, it’s become a cultural sensation and I wanted to see why, if I could. Kate gave me a third reason. To lift my spirits.

Nothing like vibranium theft and lots of gratuitous violence in a movie filled with elegant looking black folk, a few Koreans and a couple of supporting white actors to counter the gray veil. Black Panther, with closing and opening scenes in Oakland, home of the Black Panthers, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, was ok. Not great. Might have been better if I could have heard all the dialogue. Where are my closed captions at the theater?

black-panther-0The plot was less important, I think, than the stage settings and the actors. From Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan to Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira the young black actors were both beautiful and powerful. Forest Whittaker and Angela Basset added gravitas.

It’s an interesting commentary on our global culture when a single movie, made with high production values, can garner so much attention and be hailed as a “defining moment.” For this white male, certainly born to white privilege though of a lesser amount than, say, Donald Trump, it was not a defining moment. It was a decent action movie. It was not, however, blaxploitation, like those 60’s and 70’s movies with mostly black casts. And, I suspect, that contrast gave it some of its power, too.

Did it lift my spirits? Well, it got me to ignore them for a couple of hours. And, I don’t feel as heavy this morning. Maybe it helped. Time, good ol’ time, will tell.

Electric Dreams

Winter                                                                     Moon of the Long Nights

the little bugger

the little bugger

The new year is 15 days underway. Kate and I have been sick now for a fifth of that. Campylobacter she says. Not life threatening. Not the flu. But damned inconvenient. Big fun.

Last night was a Tony’s Market meal, scallops and salmon patties with twice baked potatoes and Italian roasted vegetables. We’ve decided to cook our own fancy meals, saving literally hundreds of dollars each time. My scallop recipe, which I printed out, was in tiny, tiny print and I had to squint the whole time. Why I did that to myself, I don’t know.

phillip k. dickIf you have Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, I can recommend three shows: Black Mirror on Netflix, Humans and Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams on Amazon Prime. All three are science fiction, all dystopian to one degree or another, but each is wonderful.

Of the three, Humans is one I would recommend even to someone who doesn’t like science fiction. It’s powerful. A U.K. version of a Swedish original, it chronicles the gradual integration of synthetic humans into society. Though it could take a single perspective, say the Skynet notion from the Robocop series where the synths (the shorthand used in the series) are evil or at least tend that way, it does not.

Some synths are domestic help, often loved by their owners. Others are industrial models. Some work in restaurants. In some instances synths have begun movement up the occupational ladder, taking more and more responsible jobs, putting mid-level managers out of work. A few, a handful at first, are conscious.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

As more synths become self-aware, a struggle begins between synths who simply want to integrate into human society and live their lives and those who believe humans will never accept them and must be fought. There is no one attitude among the synths just as their is no one attitude among humans toward synths.

The second season built on a strong first season, expanding the complexity and emotional conflicts developed in season one. I don’t want to describe it more, spoilers are poor form; but, it’s worth your time.

 

Yippee!

Winter                                                                  Moon of the Long Nights

A blur day. Somehow messed up my sleep, felt sleepy in the am. Napped in my chair, then went down to the bed for a nap. No sleep there. Of course. Ruth and Gabe came while Jon went to A-basin to ski. Ruth’s better but her throat’s still sore. Spent most of the day more or less tired or sleepy. No word on Rigel’s x-ray and blood work yet.

Mother's Day, 2016

Mother’s Day, 2016

Jen had to leave Denver to collect the kids. It was her dinner night with them. She communicates with me, so I arranged it with her. She hasn’t driven to Conifer since Mother’s Day of 2016, just before the divorce storm broke over the Olson sky. She got to the driveway, turned her car around pointed toward Black Mountain Drive and waited on the kids to come out. I didn’t see her. Weird.

Finished off an excellent Netflix series, The Travelers, about visitors from centuries ahead of the 21st, as they call this century, trying to avoid a full on catastrophe in the distant future.

Nosedive

Nosedive

Also watched the third episode, Crocodile, in the 4th season of Black Mirror. This is a dystopian sci-fi anthology which has, some critics say, a marked Luddite tendency that doesn’t let up. That may be, but the show is prescient. For example, the first show of the 3rd season, Nosedive, has a near future culture where the ratings from social media determine life options. Look at the recent news about China’s social credit system which, though voluntary now, will become mandatory in 2020. It’s a broadening of the U.S. concept of the FICO score for financial credit to one that has immediate social implications for the individual, too.

The first show of this, the 4th season, U.S.S. Callister, critiques Trekkies and more significantly, gamer culture. Crocodile, which I just watched, is a cleverly constructed story that takes a while to show the implications of a “memory dredger” used to pull up memories as a tool for investigation. Spoiler alert: don’t buy a guinea pig. This material is entertaining, but in a very dark way, hence Black Mirror. Sort of my sweetspot.

I don’t know whether this is peak TV as some claim, suggesting that the money being pumped into new, innovative series and movies can’t be sustained over time, but it is definitely a golden moment for sci-fiction and fantasy. Battlestar Galactica. Lost Girl. The Travelers. The Magicians. All the various Marvel offerings. Black Mirror. Dr. Who continues, now with the first female Time Lord. True Blood. Game of Thrones. Handmaid’s Tale. Dark. All of these have high production values, are high concept and have excellent actors. As a very early fan of Marvel comics and a life long reader of science fiction, I can only say, yippee!

Ofrendaless

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

spanish cilantro soupSpanish-Cilantro soup, served cold, is delicious. A good starter for a meal. Lots of allium: onion, garlic, leeks. Plus potato and, of course, cilantro. Recommended.

Slept in until 8:30 yesterday. Kate and I have not found ourselves on the road at 10:30 pm very often of late. The moon was full and high, clouds for background, the mountains hulking with only their dark shoulders visible. The traffic was somewhat heavy, probably folks coming back from the first night of Christmas lights at the Botanical Gardens. That was what created the traffic going in, we learned from Marilyn.

So yesterday was slow, a rest day. In the afternoon I took Kate to see Coco. It was better the second time. I even liked the mostly silly Olaf 21 minute short, an extension of the Frozen franchise. This time I noticed how Remember Me dominates the movie as plot point, central theme and as music.

ofrendaThe anthropologist in me got to thinking about ofrenda, the family altars created at Dias de Los Muertos, and prominent in Coco. Similar in purpose to the ancestor tablets in traditional Japanese, Chinese and Korean homes they create a bond with the memories and accomplishments of dead family members, encourage the passing down of stories over generations, help glue together families in the present through the care in creating them and the sense of living a shared narrative. They also reinforce family norms.

They are, too, similar to the yahrzeit in Judaism and the yahrzeit wall at Beth Evergreen, not to mention Samain, the equivalent Celtic holiday celebrated on the same day. Thinking about this made me wonder about the relative disappearance of dead relatives from the homes of European ancestry Christians. There is no moment in the Christian year when the dead are remembered save for All Saints Day and that’s not celebrated by many Protestants. I suppose the idea of heaven and resurrection turn the focus away from the dead and toward the afterlife and eventual resurrection. If we’re all gonna meet up at the end times, why bother with the past.

dadOh, we have our photo albums, our knick knacks, but we too easily slip past the family past to engage career, building our own family, taking care of our own lives. We’re relatively disconnected from our past, from our family. Read this article in the NYT about lonely deaths in Japan. It’s not only beautifully written and illustrated, it shows what happens to a society where declining child birth leaves the elderly alone, ofrendaless.

I point the finger at myself here. I have a small permanent ofrenda, a replica of a Spanish style balcony I bought in Bogota on my first international trip. Its purpose in Colombian culture is to hold photographs, mementos of loved ones. In it I have family photographs, a couple of small U.S. flags for mom and dad’s veteran status. Near it I keep my dad’s old briefcase, his silly animal hat. But really I rarely think of it, rarely return to their memories. Dad and I were estranged at his death, true, but I long ago mellowed on him. Even so, there are no moments during the year when they come to mind, when Aunt Mary and Uncle Charles, Grandma and Grandpa Keaton become the stuff of story and ancestry.

3 generations of our family

3 generations of our family

Good art gets us to reflect on ourselves, our own lives. It may either gently or roughly remind us of things we have neglected, emotions we bury, yearnings we had forgotten. I guess Coco stirred in me a longing for those deeper family connections, a more in this life experience of the Ellis family story. Good and bad it is my story and Joseph’s story, Mary and Mark’s story and now by extension Kate and Jon’s, too. Ruth and Gabe and SeoAh’s as well.

As the holidays begin to accelerate, perhaps this is a good time to ask the question about how we Anglos might learn from our Latino neighbors? Maybe the ancestral traditions of other lands, other peoples, can enrich our own. Help us sing Coco’s song, Remember Me.

 

Coco. See it.

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

cocoMovie recommendation: Coco. A pixar film. Gabe and I went to see it. I loved this film so much that I’ll certainly buy it when it comes out on DVD and I will go see it again. Something I rarely do.

The story itself is touching. A young boy, Miguel, raised in a family that has banned music, wants to be a musician. He goes searching for a way to play and in the process ends up in the land of the dead over the holiday of Dias de los muertos. He’s searching for his great-great-great grandfather who left his wife to go on the road with his music and never returned. That abandonment is the reason for the family ban on music.

His adventures, accompanied by an engaging Mexican hairless dog, lead him eventually to a surprising revelation about his family history. He is almost trapped in the land of the dead, which he must leave before sunrise on Dias de los muertos or remain there forever. But with the help of his dead family, the very ones pictured on the ofrenda in his home, he makes it back to the land of the living. The end is a hymn to family, to the power of music, to the transformative nature of dreams. I cried.

The cgi in this film is extraordinary, transporting the viewer back and forth between the living and the dead, the past and the present with ease and beauty. The music itself is wonderful, too.

It also reminded me of a deep fascination I have with Mexican culture, its depth and its sense of wonder. Contemporary Mexican culture mixes together indigenous beliefs from such varied backgrounds as the Olmec, the Aztec and the Maya with a Roman Catholic faith transformed by the contact. It layers Spanish culture on top of the various cultures that existed in Mexico. Coco shows all this, not in a heavy handed or obvious way, but doesn’t caricature it, either.

Two small examples. At one point, when it looks as if he will be stuck in the land of dead, Miguel is thrown in what appears to be a hole in the earth with a lake at its bottom. It’s really a cenote of sacrifice, an artifact of Mayan civilization, one I’ve seen at Chichen Itza. Also, in the land of the dead there are colorful winged serpents. Quetzalcoatl is a feathered serpent god in both Aztec and Mayan mythology.

With the growing Latino presence in the U.S. this movie can help us gringos get a sense of their culture well beyond tacos and mariachis. It is a rich, mysterious, wonder-filled culture and Coco is a good ambassador for it.

 

 

September 2018
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Breadcrumbs

Trails