Monday, May 31, 2010

SATC2: From characters to cartoons and buffoons

I knew it would be bad. The first movie was fluff, and downgraded the characters I liked in 30 minute segments to caricatures. But the movie was a chance to see the "girls" again. As every woman I know who liked the HBO series, "Sex and the City" was, at its heart, a look at soul-sisters. The shoes, clothes and men were just eye candy and escapism.

I couldn't understand the vitriol in the reviews I was reading. OF COURSE it would be bad. Nobody expects much more than friends, men and shoes. Why waste your time and energy reviewing this?

And then I saw the film, and I got it.

I walked out of "Sex and the City 2" SHOCKED. There was a point where I turned to my friend and uttered the words "wildly offensive."

As Matt Zoller Seitz titled his review so perfectly: THIS is why they hate us. In his words:

The movie's privileged cluelessness reaches an early zenith when Miranda impulsively quits her cushy job at a law firm because her boss is sexist, and springs the decision on her husband (David Eigenberg) during her son's grade school recital. "Good for you, honey!" he exclaims. "I'll get another job, a better job!" she assures him. "I already called the headhunter." They should have ended the scene by having a giant bag of money fall out of the sky and land at her feet.

Very rarely, if ever, do the characters, much less the filmmaker, suggest that they're all living in a bubble -- which is something that even the most wealth-obsessed escapist comedies produced during the Depression somehow managed to do with regularity, as a means of preserving their implicit agreement not to take the masses' hard-earned money and slap them across the face with it.

Never does "Sex and the City 2" acknowledge, even obliquely, that what Carrie and her pals consider "normal" and "comfortable" is not only foreign to the existence of 99% of the population, but that it might in fact be a sign of obscene excess, the spiritual equivalent of carrying around 200 extra pounds -- mountains of fat produced by an unhealthy upbringing and an addictive, soul-dead, self-loathing mindset, fat that cannot be characterized as a matter of genetic destiny no matter how desperately the afflicted person tries to rationalize it as such. When I watch these women sashay through their designer-labeled lives, I don't see escapism: I see pools of bloody runoff gathered in the gutters of a diner's grill. That shit'll kill you.

Do I even need to describe the scene where Samantha shakes handfuls of condoms in the faces of Muslim men while thrusting her hips and shrieking "YES! I have SEX!" I would have walked out then, but I knew the 2 hours and 35 minutes were almost over, and I was curious how it would end.

But what might scare me the most, was that the audience around me (minus my two horrified friends) were laughing and clapping through the entire scene.

As Seitz writes:

At the same time, though, much like "Transformers 2" (hmmm, "Sex" director Michael Patrick King as the gay camp version of Michael Bay -- or is that a redundancy?), "Sex and the City 2" is more than harmless escapism. It's an accidental candid snapshot of the sick, dying heart of America.
(Read the full review here.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Have you noticed?

Mountain Forest Stream, originally uploaded by bill.lepere.

My morning hikes on the paved road of Runyon Canyon aren't cutting it. I need nature, sans women in short shorts and bikini tops working on their tans while I huff up the hill, sweaty and red-faced.

I open my windows for blue sky and open Mary Oliver's book of poetry American Primitive, to be transported into nature. The poem GHOSTS begins with:

Have you noticed?

Where so many millions of powerful bawling beasts
lay down on the earth and died
it's hard to tell now
what's bone, and what merely
was once.

The golden eagle, for instance,
has a bit of heaviness in him;
moreover the huge barns
seem ready, sometimes, to ramble off
toward deeper grass.

I stopped reading with the thought that I am so removed from nature, I never see/stumble across where an animal has died. Roadkill doesn't count. This seems important to me tonight, the realization that so many animals die their natural death, and lie where they fall, unburied by those uncivilized animal family members of theirs. And I was not aware.

And it makes me aware that I live surrounded by cement. I remember summer drives through the mountain corridor on the way from the Willamette valley to the Oregon coast, and out of my windows were streams and uncharted hikes up fallen logs. I always wished a part of me would pull over and take off into the woods. I also wished a part of me had survival skills, or at least a sense of direction.

Mary Oliver ends her poem:

Once only, and then in a dream,
I watched while, secretly
and with the tenderness of any caring woman,
a cow gave birth
to a red calf, tongued him dry and nursed him
in a warm corner
of the clear night
in the fragrant grass
in the wild domains
of the prairie spring, and I asked them,
in my dream I knelt down and asked them
to make room for me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


The last few days I've been made aware of how people can react — not respond — but react, in anger, in hostility, without considering the consequences, or how we are all in this together. To react in anger does not encourage dialogue or resolve any issues, it only encourages further reactionary replies.

And my initial response was to react. But little by little, I'm learning to pause, to breathe, to laugh at myself and to remember what I care about. And then to respond calmly, if it is worth responding at all.

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh this morning helps. In Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, he writes:

"In Buddhism we speak of the world of phenomena (dharmalakshana). You, me the trees, the birds, squirrels, the creek, the air, the stars are all phenomena. There is a relationship between one phenomenon and another. If we observe things deeply, we will discover that one thing contains all the other things. If you look deeply into a tree, you will discover that a tree is not only a tree. It is also a person. It is a cloud. It is the sunshine. It is the Earth. It is the animals and the minerals. The practice of looking deeply reveals to us that one things is made up of all other things. One thing contains the whole cosmos.

..."One thing contains everything. With the energy of mindfulness, we can see deeply. With the Holy Spirit, we can see deeply. Mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha. The Holy Spirit is the energy of God. They both have the capacity to make us present, fully alive, deeply understanding, and loving. That is why in our daily life, we should live mindfully, we should live with the Holy Spirit so we can live every moment of our daily life deeply. If we do not live each moment deeply, there is no way we can touch the ultimate dimension, the dimension of the noumena."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Always Ask the Turtle

"I took geology because I thought it was the least scientific of the sciences," Steinem told an audience at Smith College.

"On a field trip, while everyone else was off looking at the meandering Connecticut River, I was paying no attention whatsoever. Instead, I had a found a giant, GIANT turtle that had climbed out of the river, crawled up a dirt road, and was in the mud on the embankment of another road, seemingly about to crawl up on it and get squashed by a car.

"So, being a good codependent with the world, I tugged and pushed and pulled until I managed to carry this huge, heavy, angry snapping turtle off the embankment and down the road.

"I was just putting it back into the river when my geology professor arrived and said, 'You know, that turtle probably spent a month crawling up that dirt road to lay its eggs in the mud by the side of the road, and you just put it back in the river.'

"Well, I felt terrible. But in later years, I realized that this was the most important political lesson I learned, one that cautioned me about the authoritarian impulse of both left and right.

"Always ask the turtle."

~Gloria Steinem

(Story quoted from

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mind Wide Open (Hymn by Aimee Bender)

Mind Wide Open
Originally uploaded by picazam
"When they were older, they took over the village and ran it perfectly. Little did their mothers and fathers know. That when they'd eaten the foods and breathed the air and felt the feelings and made the love that created their children, they were, for once, in perfect synchronization. ...

"The child with divine ears listened to the soil, and pointed to where he heard the seeds unfurling with pleasure. Plant here, he told the one with the longest arms who could reach straight into the heart of the dirt. In later years, that eyeless one ... when the sadness was unbearable ... could hear the types of tears by the pace of the blinking, and know in which manner to offer comfort.

"Then the grand feast, with foods of all kinds, even for the several who did not eat food but survived only on the quality of listening. They usually hovered at the corners and when they grew wan and skinny, it was a reminder. To focus. On this day, they filled up visibly, fat and happy.

"No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness."

~ from "Hymn" by Aimee Bender

Monday, May 03, 2010

Naked American in Japan: Experiencing an Onsen

Most Americans won't go with us to the onsen, Donna told me.  They have a problem with public nudity. 

The Aguri No Yu onsen was nestled in the mountains (Asama San) near Komoro City, Japan.  The baths were divided, girls on one side, boys on the other.  The steam came up from the natural hot springs, the various pools had different temperatures and some had falls of water that pounded your shoulders and back like a big Swedish masseuse.  I didn't see the problem. Let's get naked.

I was reminded of my onsen experience when I opened my DailyOM email:  "Finding time to be as naked as the day you were born can awaken feelings of contentment, freedom, and self-love."

With Canadian-born Donna leading the way, we walked into the ladies locker room.  Surrounded by smaller Japanese women, I was used to the stares, a tall, very white American. In one small village market, a little 4 year old girl pointed and laughed openly, shocked at my appearance.   Donna married a Japanese man, and even after 20 years living in the culture and behaving more Japanese than Canadian, she is accustomed to the stares.  It's okay, she told me.  They like your pale skin.  A solar-phobe/30 SPF addict living in Los Angeles, I was used to being gawked at for being so white. 

Donna handed me a small towel, light and gauzy with blue Kanji script.  Use this to cover up if you need to, she instructed.  (Cover what? The towel was all of 5 square inches.)  But women use it to wash, and then wrap their hair. 

Naked as the day I was born, I strolled with Donna and women of all shapes, sizes and mostly one hue, into the bath.  We joined the other women who sat on a stool beneath a shower head and scrubbed away the day's dirt.  Clean, raw and pink, we then made our way to the largest pool, the most temperate.

Next I sat under the two pounding waterfalls, that worked out the little stress I had from navigating the Tokyo train system with my dad.  And then I padded outside, where steam rose off the hottest pool.  Sinking in, I smiled to the Japanese women who serenely nodded their approval of my presence, white skin, long legs, big hips and all.  We sat in silence, surrounded by mountains. 

Daily OM reminds us:

"For most of us, it is probably difficult to remember the last time we were comfortably naked for a period of time longer than 20 minutes or so. Many of us are only naked for the length of time it takes us to shower or bathe. We quickly dry off and put our clothes or pajamas on, without taking even a moment to enjoy the feeling of the air against our bare skin. Most of us learned that this was the way to do things from a young age, and we may not have been exposed to another way of thinking, but many cultures regard nudity as completely acceptable, even in somewhat public settings. If you have ever had the good fortune to assimilate yourself to this way of doing things, you may have found the experience liberating enough to allow it to influence the rest of your life.

Perhaps you swam topless in Tahiti or took a sauna in Sweden or Finland. ... You may have noticed the lack of vanity in people who are comfortable with their naked bodies. Old ladies and young girls sit side by side, seemingly without concern for how they appear. We see that it is not necessary to hide our imperfections; from cellulite to wrinkles, all is accepted with equilibrium. We can see the beauty and naturalness of our different bodies, accepting ourselves as just right, just as we are."

(Photo: - Myoko Onsen)