Monday, August 31, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Over the weekend, I participated in one of the four free meditations set up by the Sri Chinmoy Centre. A three-hour session focused on "heart center" meditation that took place at The Children's Aid Society in the West Village. The whole set-up was quite impressive: extensive meditation, philosophy, free vegetarian lunch for the morning session, snacks for the afternoon session, a free booklet and a free concert.
The meditation seminar was given by a Canadian, and fellow student of Sri Chinmoy. A lively fellow who not only imparted meditation techniques, but also some philosophy regrading this life and the afterlife. According to Chinmoy (and coincidentally many others), three of the immediate planes that exist are the physical plane (which we are all inhabiting now), the astral plane (the emotional plane accessed upon death) and the causal plane (more of an intellectual plane where there is more bliss than the astral). After we have essentially learned all we are to learn in this lifetime, death will occur and our level of enlightenment will be evaluated. Did you learn not to defalcate? Not to lie? Fill up the Brita pitcher? Depending on your status, you may have to face deportation back to earth to relive more of the same crap just so you can get to some of the other life lessons you failed to learn in your previous life.
Surprisingly, it was during the free concert when I ran into some spiritual trouble myself. You see, as if the day was not glorious enough, the Sri Chinmoy Centre coordinated a group of ladies (dressed in saris), to come on stage before our concluding meditation to sing to us. And by sing I mean a cappella, in a high pitched voice and in a different language. For the first three minutes I was in awe of the harmonies, and enjoyed the transcendental moment the concert was providing. By the fifth minute however, this was no longer the case, as I noticed some kind of ineluctable chuckle gurgling in the pit of my belly. A kind of happy heave dying to get out. What is it? I thought. What is so freaking funny about this Amanda? I couldn't decide. Caucasian women wearing saris? Not likely. The high pitched noise? Maybe. The singing in something resembling tongue? Perhaps. By now, I was laughing through my eyes and nose and trying desperately to hold it back. But failing, as my fifth grade inner boy Kurt* was completely channeled and letting loose.
Shit, I am totally coming back.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
2. Jacklash: I cannot take credit for the coining of a term that so aptly expresses my state of Michael Jackson overload; that belongs to my boyfriend. "Jacklash" also refers of course to the day local and world news stopped to cover everything from Vitiligo to Demerol to giraffes once kept at Neverland. And don't get me wrong, I LOVED me some Michael growing up. I even went as far as trying to recreate the "Thriller" video with my third grade class at recess; spending most of my evenings cutting out cardboard tombstones to resemble a graveyard. (My plan was going well until at a scheduled recess rehearsal Hasaan, the closest color we had to Michael at the time, decided he'd much rather play a "game" than go over, repeatedly, my choreography. Eh, showbiz isn't for everyone.) And yes, I cried watching the memorial service and even cried some more watching stock footage of the Jackson 5 for the umpteenth time, but frankly, we've gone mad, especially Larry King. He in particular has gone insane. It seems too that you can’t even read a profile on Nora Ephron without The New Yorker overtly sticking in a black and white photo of the gloved one in the middle of it (and, you can’t, because, they did).
3. North Korea: I'm normally overjoyed at being a woman and getting to live in a free world, but dammit if Lisa Ling's documentary Inside North Korea didn't make me want to get down on my knees and praise God (and whomever else might be responsible). The mere mention of no Internet access, a ban on cell phones, and continuous and mandatory laudations of a dictator would petrify most Americans, but throw in malnutrition, severe poverty, a closed door policy to outside aid and concentration camps, and we would all surely reenact a scene a la Jim Jones. And not only are there concentration camps for defectors, but in the case of camp #22, there are camps for families of those who commit crimes. Which begs you to recall the old warning you took away from grammar school: "Don't spoil it for everyone else."
As this short documentary follows an eye doctor as he performs hundreds of operations on North Koreans who have gone blind, there are North Korean minders along the way watching his and Lisa Ling's every move. You will most likely cry, I warn you, as did I when they talked about small children fighting over a kernel of corn in cow dung, or when a woman swears out loud to "the dear leader" that she will work harder in the salt mines because he, Kim Jong Il, helped her see again.
Nope, not a RomCom, but surely an inside look you might not have gotten anywhere else.
4. Jesus: And since we are on the topic of Godly things and the universe, I will share a scene that occurred while riding the subway a few weeks ago: I was sitting next to a woman who was cradling a small child to her breast. She wasn't breast-feeding mind you, but cooing at the young girl and turning to her husband intermittently. I, nose in book, was rereading for the fifth time a sentence that had to compete with the chorus of South Pacific's "Happy Talk" running through my head (a war that would span the rest of the train ride in and include the time it took me to order a salad, before heading into work to hear that very song, again).
The train stopped and I heard the doors open. At which point, I heard collective gasps. I don't know how it came to be, but when I happened to look up, that very woman sitting next to me was now at the door, pulling at her child's hand which was somehow wedged between the subway car and the retracted door. People were staring and still gasping as this woman's husband (whom I assume was trying to depart before this fiasco occurred) was trying to pull out tiny fingers. Horrified by the whole situation I turned towards the door and contributed in this way: "JESUS CHRIST!!!" That's right, "Jesus Christ." Loudly and passionately, this was my contribution. I don't know if I thought this would conjure Him up and have Him in turn, shimmy down one of the stripper poles each subway car provides to save the day, but He, was apparently foremost on my mind.
The response? Shock, and even more horror. Who knew I was such a fan..
Monday, June 29, 2009
Gayle: Yeah, I was out all day and decided to eat before going back home.
Me: Oh, you're calling from a restaurant. I can barely hear you, where are you?
Gayle: I'm at that restaurant with the "o's" that are owl's eyes. The restaurant with owls.
Me: What? Owls?
Gayle: Their sign has two "o's" in it.
Gayle: Yeah, they have good burgers.
Me: Gayle, that's a bar for dudes!
Gayle: Really? You know, I couldn't understand why there were so many sailors here.
Honestly, she had never heard of Hooters.
Then there was the time Gayle moved into her new apartment and coined the term "I now know." Let me explain: In the kitchen of her new apartment there is a fake drawer. The kind that serves no other purpose except for aesthetics. I had tried to open it myself once, only to lose footing and have her cat look on disapprovingly. But while I gave up on the thing shortly thereafter, Gayle continued to be its victim. One day, I arrived at Gayle's to find the drawer looking slightly off-kilter. "What happened here?" I asked. "I tried to open that drawer again. But I now know, it's fake."
About a month ago I called Gayle for an afternoon chat. During the time she had to spare before going to a surprise birthday party, I asked her a question I have never cared to ask anyone before.
Me: What are you wearing tonight?
Gayle: (slightly thrown off) A pair of jeans and a top because I now know, when an invitation says Dress Casual, it does not mean rags. I learned this at Joie's engagement party.
Gayle went on to inform me that she showed up to the engagement party in a pair of jodhpurs, a t-shirt and a pair of sandals; something akin to a scene in David Copperfield I'm sure. Everyone else? In dresses.
Gayle: I really don't know where I get my information from Amanda. Once, I was getting ready for something and put on earrings. Right before I left, I removed the earrings because I remembered the invitation had warned to Dress Casual. I thought the earrings were too fancy.
I lived with Gayle for three years. First, in a one bedroom where the door to our sleeping area could not open all the way; rendering us acrobats just to get in. Then later, in a two bedroom Co-op where she had to endure possible food poisoning from a boxed turkey dinner I took from downstairs when no one claimed it. (I now know that Co-op does not equate to safe handling of poultry.)
With her I have gone on location to shoot a feature film; moved a queen size mattress several blocks by hand to the Salvation Army; taken in a rodeo; experienced some of my most productive years artistically; arrived to clubs as early as 9:30 p.m.; learned how to swim; explored other religions; stayed at a luxury hotel in Atlantic City for fifteen dollars by agreeing to listen to a timeshare spiel; met and dated two guys who were also roommates; failed at online dating; quit eating so much sausage and sugared cereal; discovered the importance of wine after a two show day; cried uncontrollably when she was diagnosed with cancer; and laughed harder than I could have ever expected to.
Today marks my best friend Gayle's fortieth birthday. Certainly no minor feat when thirty is considered forty and forty is the new, or should I say, old fifty. (Damn you Hollywood!) So today, this post is dedicated to my friend of twelve years. A woman I adore for being sweet, honest, genuine, kindhearted and loving; and, for giving me so many reasons to laugh.
So, with that, Happy Birthday Gayle. You are truly one of a kind...and so very, very loved in return.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
In fourth grade, my teacher, (I'll call her Miss Frigh), came to school one day feeling particularly lazy. I don't know why exactly, since she was unmarried and childless, but on this day she felt overwhelmed by the prospect of teaching us kids and handling our unsettling quiddities. So, she put an assortment of assignments on the blackboard to last us the day, while she sat at her desk and filed her nails; read; and most likely drafted a personal ad for the local paper.
Our first assignment was to compose a large paragraph on something or other. I cannot recall what I wrote about and when I finish telling this story, it might seem strange that the topic evades me even now. But let's just say I had to write my plans for the upcoming weekend.
A few minutes after eight, I pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil and set to writing about the most magnificent weekend I was going to have roller skating in my driveway to my 45 of The Human League's Don't You Want Me Baby. About two hours later, I was still writing. And editing. And rewriting the whole thing all over again; this time on another piece of paper because the old paper had accumulated too many eraser smudges. Then, more editing. By eleven o'clock everyone else was bent over their spelling workbooks. Me? I was debating punctuation. Forty-five minutes later, they were grabbing their Smurf lunchboxes and heading to lunch. Me? Erasing a preposition.
Miss Frigh: What is taking you so long? And you're supposed to be writing the answers in your workbook, not on loose leaf.
Workbook?! As if!
Me: I'm finishing the paragraph.
Miss Frigh: The writing assignment!! Get over here right now. You have to turn that in. Do you know how behind you are?
I walked over to her desk with my piece of paper, still staring at a sentence. Miss Frigh started pulling it out of my hand so I tugged it back. Her red lacquered nail leaving a faint red line and giving me heart palpitations. I can't turn it in now, I thought. Not with that red stripe.
Miss Frigh: Amanda! Hand it over!
Me: No. I need to just fix something on it.
Miss Frigh: Too late, you have go to lunch.
Me: Can I come back during recess?
Miss Frigh: No!
It was my first deadline. And, coincidentally, my first encounter with an obsession for perfection. Though it was a struggle, I have since gotten much better.
While reading Gore Vidal's memoir, Palimpsest, I came across a story about Tennessee Williams. And oh could I relate....
"Tennessee worked every morning on whatever was at hand. If there was no play to be finished or new dialogue to be sent round to the theater, he would open a drawer and take out the draft of a story already written and begin to rewrite it. I once found him revising a short story that had just been published. 'Why,' I asked, 'rewrite what's already in print?' He looked at me, vaguely; then he said, 'Well, obviously it's not finished.' And went back to his typing."
Sometimes I wish I had Miss Frigh's address, if only to send her out a revised and more perfected paragraph.
I think she would really appreciate it.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
By now we have all been briefed of the Catholic Church's role in these cover-ups, and of the sheer volume of victims pedophilia has claimed. However, I watched this 2006 film for two reasons: 1. My love of documentary films in general. 2. My own history with Catholicism. For twelve years of my primary education, I attended three Catholic schools. During which, I was sometimes instructed by nuns, frequently and infrequently attended church services, rarely kept my Lent promise of refraining from curse words, and met a few priests. But while the religion itself played an important role early on, I was mostly swayed by the accessories...the beads, the cross pins, the optional white handbag for my Holy Communion ceremony, the scapular (you get the idea).
My grandmother (on my mother's side), was idolatrous in her worship of Catholicism. She started every morning with at least an hour of praying and concluded her evenings with another hour. She attended mass every Sunday, said Novenas, kissed her statues, and sometimes had the benefit of having me say the rosary with her (again, the accessories). She loved God and Jesus and in her common moments of inebriation, felt free to use either or both of them to pursuade a party to feel guilty. Yup, grandma had all the makings of a true Catholic. But here is something she was not: blind to the possibilty of sexual "monkey business." Nope, clergy or not, grandma felt that young girls should not be around strange older men. And maybe there was something to that.
In Deliver Us From Evil, I was surprised to learn the willingness of some of these families to let this "strange older man" into their homes; not just for dinners, but sometimes, for sleepovers. Sleepovers! It is hard to picture my mother, her former taxed single parent self, ever agreeing to an overnight stay. Dinner? Maybe. A sleepover? Oh hells no! I also question the parents' obedience to authority, or in this case, a man of the cloth. Granted some of the families had no idea (as with many of the cases worldwide), but of those that found out about O'Grady, I would think the local precinct would have been the first place to go. Or, to confront O'Grady himself. It is hard not to imagine my mother barging into a police station or a confessional booth and waging holy verbal terror.
But perhaps I am being too presumptuous.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the human disposition towards authority known as the Power Distance Index. Basically, how we see ourselves in relation to those we assume have more power or authority. The families in this film are trusting, kindhearted, easily taken by O'Grady's charm, and mostly credulous because he is a man of God. So, they are apt to follow Diocese protocol in making a complaint. I also have to remember that it is the 70s, and much like that decade's predecessors-the 50s and 60s-people were still operating from some popular beliefs of that time: 1. Don't interfere with parents who believe in corporal punishment. 2. Obey your elders and those in a higher standing. 3. Adhere to the FDA's food pyramid. 4. Children should be seen and not heard.
Which makes it that much harder to feel anything but compassion and sympathy for these families. And, nothing but outrage towards O'Grady as he ends up serving just seven years in prison before being deported to Ireland to walk the streets a free man.
I won't get into the various theories behind pedophilia, especially involving that of priests, because it is too depressing and still being debated. But one pressing question of mine did get answered in this film: why, really, priests are not allowed to marry. A denial my grandmother and I always thought wrong. Apparently, many years ago, marriage was acceptable, but as priests died and the money went to surviving family members and not the Church, this option was soon snuffed. Thus confirming today's rampant notion that the Catholic Church = Corporation. (I wish that had been on the GREs)
Critic's Note: Hmmm. In one scene in which O'Grady is being interviewed, he is shot in front of a playground where there are several small children playing on a jungle gym. Hmmm.