January 22, 2008

for Heath, or "requiem for a smiling face"

12 years ago, there were no such things as "blogs".

In fact, back in 1996, there was barely even an internet.

Even in my day job, where we were ostensibly on the leading edge of software & technology at the time, we were still using things like VI, the MS WordPad of text editors, to write complex computer programs, line-by-line-by-line. Lotus Notes was the latest thing for intra-company communications, and only senior management had actual accounts on the system. A laptop? You may as well have asked the company to buy you a Rolls Royce while you were at it. And, if you were one of the blessed few to have a company e-mail account, chances are, you were keeping a manila folder in your file cabinet, where you kept hard copy print outs of every single e-mail you ever sent or received.

At home, things weren't much better. I bought a Compaq Presario that year and subscribed to a local Mom & Pop internet service provider to get dial up access to the nascent web. After being spoiled by free e-mail back in college, I couldn't wait to rip open my shrink-wrapped copy of Netscape Navigator and jump back onto the so-dubbed "Information Superhighway".

One night during that same year, as I was listening to Hot 97 on the train ride back to my humble abode in Montclair, New Jersey, Angie Martinez & company came on the air in tears.

Tupac Shakur had just died.

I didn't know this man. And yet, his passing had meaning - real personal meaning - to me.

And, even though I was a relatively content, well-compensated (albeit grotesquely overworked) little corporate drone, I had to say... SOMETHING.... about this to someone.

I was driven..... compelled to write.

So, I sat down at my Presario and composed a little essay called "2Pacalypse", where I related the suddenness of 2Pac's passing to Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge on San Luis Rey", questioning this notion that death is God's way of saying "mission accomplished". Was his soul actually supposed to learn something by getting gunned down on the Las Vegas strip? Were the rest of us supposed to take something away from it? Or was the search for terrestrial meaning at all a fruitless gesture?

Of course, what took me a page or two to say back in the mid 90's I can now do in one paragraph. Practice makes perfect. :-)

Point being, even back then, when I couldn't even imagine living the life that I lead right now, was the DNA for Macroscope.

Even more to the point, I'm still struck by my personal need to respond in a personal way to the passing of a person who had no direct contact with my life.

Then again, as I stated in "2Pacalypse", Tupac been touching my life in some way since 1991. As a popular artist, his music had provided a kind of Greek chorus to my life. I remember cruising the summer streets of Baltimore with my friends to the tune of "I Get Around", or planning to scare the white people in the dining hall at Princeton with a song that starts "...They claim that I'm violent, just cause I refuse to be silent", or feeling warm and fuzzy and agreeable listening to "Dear Mama".

If I can paraphrase Jeffrey Wigand, we artists are in the Emotion Delivery Business.

And anyone who can make you FEEL something will always have a place in your heart, regardless of how that feeling is given to you. They become your friends, you family even. They can make you laugh or cry. They can inspire you, and even disappoint you, even if you've never ever met.

Thus is the odd conundrum that is mass media and celebrity.

Even though he was a stranger, 2Pac's art made him feel like he was my friend.

Which is why I'm suddenly reminded of him and his passing today.

Not that long ago, I hated Heath Ledger.

He didn't really register with me the first time I saw him, opposite Mel Gibson in "The Patriot". I mean, his character irritated me, but there were so many other things in that movie that pissed me off even more (Black slaves who were just tickled pink to pick Mel's cotton? A church full of people burned alive, but everything is cool because Mel killed Jason Isaacs? Shall I go on?), that I just sort of ignored the young Aussie.

"A Knight's Tale" was when he really started to irk me, because I could feel the studio machine tuning up the band to proclaim him "The Next Big Thing(tm)". I'd recently read William Goldman's "Adventures in The Screen Trade", and tended to agree with his thesis that new stars were only created when an established star passes on a juicy role and the producers are forced to cast a talented unknown in the part. Sadly, I think I was unfairly heaping Heath in with my feelings on Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor ("The Next Harrison Ford"? come ON!) and just this overwhelming sense of Jonestown-style Kool-Aid that was floating around movie marketing that year. In fact, by the end of the summer of 2001, I was so irritated with the kind of films I'd been seeing, that I teamed with a like-minded classmate from film school to write a film that directly addressed many of the failings that we saw while still telling a good yarn.

And after a year of working on said film, we got word that Heath Ledger was going to star in a new movie with the EXACT SAME TITLE AS OURS.

Yes, I HATED Heath Ledger.

But then I saw "Monster's Ball". In particular, this scene made me a believer in Heath Ledger.

(And, if you've never seen the movie before, I beg you, PLEASE don't waste time with this YouTube clip. Just go out and rent the damn thing, because it's just a fantastic film):

I even loved "The Four Feathers". And a big part of what I loved was Heath's performance - just through his body and his face, he was able to transport me directly inside his character's emotional journey, from false pride, to cowardice, to guilt, resolve, sacrifice, despair, and, finally, triumph.

I read an interview with him where he said that, regarding acting roles, he felt like it would be a waste of his time to repeat himself. Which is why he turned down a ton of nice, frothy teen films at the start of his career and was, at one point, forced to borrow money from his agent to survive, waiting for a good, original role.

The guy wasn't just a teen idol-in-training. He was an f'n actor.

And the very best actors have always been anthronauts - literally, "sailors on the seas of humanity" - exploring the uncharted corners of the soul and bringing the breadfruits of this spiritual New World back to nourish those of us who wait on the safer, civilized shores of our own identities.

But, knowing what I know about actors who channel the spirit of their characters, like Mr. Ledger clearly does, I can't help but wonder about the toll it took on him to accomplish... THIS:

Before The Joker, he appeared to be on the path to be a reasonably peaceful & content family man. Then, after locking himself in a hotel room for six weeks to inhabit this most unhinged of all supervillains, he separated from his love and complained that he'd been unable to sleep for weeks.

His brain just couldn't stop spinning.

I believe I even heard that he'd been prescribed Ambien, and it still only helped him sleep for an hour at a time.

Am I suggesting something as crass as "The Joker killed Heath Ledger"? No. What I am suggesting is, when people describe certain actors as fearless, it's not just about doing their own stunts. There are emotional and spiritual costs to doing this sort of work at the highest level.

I remember my father wondering out loud about Ricky Williams: "with all that money, you'd think a guy would be able to keep himself off of drugs".

Sadly, Dad, sometimes, for some people, the drugs are the only things propping them up to allow them to even do what they do. Athletes. Rock stars. Movie stars.

Delivering a feeling to millions upon millions of people, night after night, day after day...

Think of it this way: consider how much energy it takes for you to have the relationships with the people you personally know and with whom you maintain a personal connection. Now, imagine if you had to do that for a living, where every single person on the street feels connected to you. Deeply. Personally. Spiritually.

Every. Single. Person.

The best of them give us all so much. Things we simply could not live without, no matter how much we want to dismiss them as inconsequential.

After I got through shouting "WHAT?!?!?" at my computer screen, hoping that if I said it long enough and loud enough, the sheer force of my voice would change the words to anything other than "Heath Ledger Dead at 28"....

After I got over the deep sadness I felt for people like Michelle Williams and his daughter, or even someone like Christopher Nolan, who now has the unenviable task of looking at his friend Heath's face every single day for the next six months while trying to finish editing his movie....

After taking the stream of phone calls from friends who were as astonished and saddened at the news as I was....

After all that mourning....

All I honestly have left to say is "Thank you."

"Thank you, Heath, for the deliveries"

"They were always right on time."

Send some light and love both to him and the people who knew him best.

Good night, friends.

January 04, 2008

THIS is The Moment

If you look to your left and see the nifty new Archives feature here on Macroscope, the statistics are very telling. I generated more posts in 2003 than in all of the other six years of this blog's existence, combined.

2003 was a heavy year.

I turned 30 that August.

And, on the day of my birthday, I had to attend a funeral.

One of my co-workers, a very nice young Mormon fellow, had recently left his job to go back to law school. About a week after we'd given him a fond send off, he was celebrating with his family, including his parents, brothers, his wife and two young children, during a cookout. At one point, my friend's father was playing with my friend's little two year old son in the front yard, and he took his eyes off the child for a moment.... which was all that was needed for the little boy to run over to the next door neighbor's pool that had always fascinated him.

He fell in and drowned.

2 years old.

And the funeral was the day of my birthday.

I remember my girlfriend & I driving deep out into Ventura County early that morning. She's an artist and she'd made a painting of the two of us and her young daughter as a birthday gift. After being together for nearly a year, I believe we broke up roughly a month after this drive.

It was a beautiful day and the area surrounding the church was full of orange groves and farm land. I remember stepping inside the viewing room for the wake.

To this day, I can think of nothing more abominable than a tiny casket.

Inside, he just looked like he was napping.

By the time I got home, my mother had called to wish me a happy birthday. She was on the road coming back from Georgia at the time. A young man from my family's church back in Baltimore was a Marine paratrooper and he was being court-martialed because he and two other marines had been caught tampering with the parachute lines for their unit. They claimed it was meant to bring attention to some unknown ill on the base, but, really does it really even matter? However, the other two had somehow managed to cop a plea, so he, at 19 years old, was left holding the bag and facing the full righteous fury of the United States Marine Corps. He was being sentenced that day in Georgia, so a group from our church took a bus down from Baltimore to act as character witnesses in hopes of inspiring some leniency in his sentence.

Mom told me that, after they all made their impassioned pleas, the judge sentenced him to 20 years in Ft. Levenworth, KS.

As opposed to life in prison.

In this same phone call, Mom told me that one of her old co-workers who'd been a longtime family friend and had even done my taxes on some occasions had just died after a long illness. She also told me that one of the elder statesmen of our church, himself a Marine who was praying for the young man's freedom, had died.

2003 was the first year I had official representation as a tv writer. After several meetings, I apparently came within a hair's breath of getting hired to write for a major NBC drama. But was not. So, I, as an Ivy League graduate, formerly a highly paid IT consultant, now holding a Master of Fine Arts degree, would continue to subsist for another year as a glorified secretary in a non-profit. Excuse me, as a TEMPORARY glorified secretary in a non-profit.

At various points throughout the year, I'd had both my telephone and my electricity disconnected because I hadn't paid my bills. It's moments like then that you think, "Maybe that payment protection plan on my credit card wasn't such a crazy idea."

I turned 30 that year.

To paraphrase Max Cady, 2003 was the year I learned about loss.

Loss of loved ones. Loss of the dream of a family of my own. Loss of opportunities. Loss of pride.

I wrote a lot that year.

But if you look at Macroscope, circa 2003, you won't find any of these stories there.

Instead, you'll find page after page after page about what's wrong with the world outside. Dozens of invectives against George Bush and the invasion of Iraq and intolerance and Rwanda and water politics and CSA sympathizers, with some pop culture & comic references sprinkled in between.

And, of course, LOTS of posts about Howard Dean.

And, if I may psychoanalyze myself from 5 years ago, Dean was going to be the one to make it all right in my life again. And he was going to do it by making Them pay. We were going to take Our Country back. We were going to steal our dreams back. And kick the asses of all the people who'd taken our dreams away in the first place.

I mean how else can you explain this?

I think I was dying inside, and Dean helped me live again by being an avatar for all of rage that was building inside.

Sometimes, I think anger is a necessary tool. You can't go from abject despair to rapturous joy overnight. There are steps. Sometimes, you need a righteous fury just to muster the energy to pick yourself up again.

I loved Dean for America and everything that it stood for. But, like with all things, if you continue to grow, eventually, you'll outgrow them.

Case in point, sometime in the summer of 2004, I was conducting yet another e-mail debate, this time, over legalizing gay marriage, when my brother, staunch, pro-defense Republican that he is, waded into the thick of my progressive, liberal friends to defend the church's official position on the subject. And, of course, it was just ON. But one guy, who'd I'd campaigned with extensively for Dean, took it too far. While everyone else was saying that my brother's position was rediculous, THIS guy started saying that my brother was stupid and that people like him are the reason why this country is in the mess that it is and that he hoped that my brother didn't have children so that they wouldn't grow up to be as stupid as he was and...

You get the idea.

I was livid.

I was out of work, sitting at home at my computer in my underwear, and I was livid.

How DARE he attack my family like that?!?!

I basically told my brother "I got this", and then spent an hour composing a blistering response.

I was using Hotmail at the time. And it wouldn't let me send that e-mail. I'd exceeded the maximum number of e-mails I could send in a day and would have to wait.

I'm suddenly reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes to buy a gun and is told that he can't take it home right away because of the 5 day waiting period. His response?
"Five DAYS?!?! But I'm angry RIGHT NOW!!!"
At this point, I had a new girlfriend, and I called her to rant. And, of course, she would have none of it. Moreover, she pointed out to me that this was, in fact, my fault. After all, I'd spent the better part of a year sowing bile, venom, and anger to this little virtual community. The guy in question hadn't said anything worse than I had over the year, it's just that this time it was about someone I cared about instead of some abstract evil OTHER out there.

You reap what you sow.

And that was really the moment that I realized that, if I wanted a different world, I had to start making different choices.

I had to BE different.

I realized that, ultimately, as easy and viscerally satisfying it may be in the short term, fighting just really didn't feel good at all. And it simply wasn't constructive. I stopped arguing with my brother about politics. In fact, I stopped arguing about politics, period. Because, in the end, it was never about America. It was always about me.

And a funny thing happened once I started focusing on myself and getting right inside. My life actually started getting better. I got a real, permanent job. I got to travel. I lost weight. I got a house. I nearly sold my movie. Twice.

As a Dean supporter, I used to make fun of the Kucinich people, especially as their candidate spoke of replacing the DoD with a "Department of Peace". But, now I see, that, if peace is what you truly want, you have to make peace your intention.

And, more specifically, as I said after Dean's collapse in a post called, ironically enough, "Electibility":
America is, for lack of a better term, a symphony.

It is the blueprint for a song that calls upon the very best from every single instrument in the orchestra. And the President is the conductor. A conductor cannot take the elements of the piece meant for the brass section and give them to the strings simply because he likes the way the strings sound. On the other hand, the conductor can't take from the strings and give to the winds because he thinks the strings are too arrogant and full of themselves. And he certainly can't make the symphony work by catering to the natural divisions between the various sections.

The conductor's goal should be rousing, fulfilling, beautiful harmony.

Which means the President of the United States of America has to represent the entire country. Not just the red states or, my personal favorites, the blue states. Every section has a role to contribute to the endeavor, and the President's job is to led the way by which ALL sections contribute and are provided for. He must be the President for the workers, the poor, the underclass, but he must also be the President for the business community and the wealthy, those who provide the opportunities for the others.
Which brings me to the events of the last week in Iowa.

There was a time when my hopes for Barack Obama waivered, and I was leaning more towards John Edwards. But, again, I had an epiphany.

I get those a lot now.

I realized that Edwards had transformed himself into a more disciplined and effective version of Howard Dean. He was the new servant of red meat for the progressive faithful.

Even more scary, if you compare their speeches and take out the '90's nostalgia, Edwards sounds an awful lot like Hillary Clinton. While Edwards is talking about fighting and taking on the powerful corporate interests, Hilary is saying that she's the only one who knows how to fight the right wing machine.

They're both there to fight The Bogeyman. Just like John Kerry in '04 and Al Gore in 2000. They're all spoiling for a fight. For them, it's not about peace and prosperity, it's about victory on the battlefield.

Just like the Republicans. I was struck by last night's GOP debate, where they all talked about this giant existential battle for the soul of the planet against islamofascism, but not a single one of them gave any time to discussing how do the practical things like, I don't know, securing the loose nukes laying around the old Soviet republics that could actually make the islamofascists so dangerous. To them, Al Qaeda and the PLO and Black September and the Ayatollah Khomeini are all faces of the same monster, like Sauron in Middle Earth.


But, as I said in my Christmas post about Freddie Krueger, Bogeymen are only as powerful as you make them.

In the end, you can't stop war by waging war on war.

Which is why I love what Obama's doing. He is operating on a totally different, and, dare I say, higher level than anyone else in this race. He is conducting his campaign and trying to lead the nation in the tradition of RFK, and MLK, and even Gandhi.

He understands the power of peace and reconciliation. He is the only person who is actually running to be President of the UNITED States of America.

Oddly enough, the night of the caucuses, they interviewed Howard Dean on MSNBC. And he really didn't look well. He looked sickly. And old.

I still love Dean, but his moment has past.

My mom was a staunch Hillary supporter until I gave her Obama's two books. Now, she thinks, given the improbability of Obama's very existence (Kenyan father, Kansas mother, schooled in Indonesia, raised in Hawaii, on to Harvard law, etc.) that he must be a divine gift.

Over Christmas dinner, she asked my brother who he's supporting, and, even though he's a Republican who voted for George W. Bush TWICE, he said that, if he gets the nomination, he's voting for Obama.

THIS is the America I want. And, as any student of manifestation and divine energy will tell you, before you decide to fight like Edwards or get to work like Hillary, it all starts with choosing and cultivating the right dream.

Dreams reshape the world.

I read recently that one of the beliefs about the ancient Mayan calendar is that, when it ends in 2012, the world as we know it will come to an end.

A moment of profound loss.

But you need that loss to get to the next world, the so-called "Noosphere", a state of transhuman consciousness for the entire planet.

I know. More about that later.

In 2003, I needed those losses to be who I am right now. You have to let go of the old to embrace the new.

I think Obama is the vanguard of a transformation. Of this country and, potentially, the world.

And all I can say is, "Bring it on!"

January 01, 2008


Because it's the beginning of a new year, I suppose it's only appropriate to talk about the things I loved in the 365 days past. So, without further ado, and in no particular order:

avorite films released theatrically in 2007
  • Talk To Me
  • No Country For Old Men
  • Sunshine
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Grindhouse
  • Lust, Caution
  • Superbad
  • 3:10 To Yuma
  • The Bourne Ultimatum

Favorite films I saw in my living room in 2007
  • Equilibrium
  • Deja Vu
  • The Dreamers
  • Silent Hill
  • Idiocracy
  • Dirty Pretty Things
Favorite comic series published in 2007
  • Green Lantern
  • 52
  • New Avengers
  • Thor
  • Eternals
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier
  • World War Hulk
  • New Avengers: The Illuminati

Favorite musical discoveries of 2007

  • "Frequency" by Naked Rhythm
  • "Singles" by Vikter Duplaix
  • "Belle Et Fou" by Jazzanova
  • "International Affairs" by Vikter Duplaix
  • "Bebel Gilberto Remixed"
  • "A Night At The Playboy Mansion" by Dimtri From Paris
  • "After The Playboy Mansion" by Dimitri From Paris
  • "The Street Experience" by Raheem Devaughn
  • "Danger Doom" by Danger Mouse & MF Doom
Favorite TV shows airing new episodes in 2007
  • The Wire
  • The Shield
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Lost
  • Heroes
  • Chuck
  • The 4400
  • John From Cincinnati
  • Entourage
Biggest Disappointments of 2007
  • Bionic Woman
  • Flash Gordon
  • John From Cincinnati (and no, this is not a mistake)
  • American Gangster
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Countdown to Final Crisis
  • Justice League of America (the comic)
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Democratic Congressional Majority
Best weekly parties in L.A. in 2007
  • Sweeterlife
  • Room Service
  • Mingle and Plei
  • The Do-Over
  • Reflection
  • Pause
  • whatever the Hell Garth Trinidad was calling that party he used to through in the Purple Room in the Standard Sunset Hotel
Best Books I read in 2007
  • Dune Messiah
  • Children of Dune
  • The Law of Attraction
  • Exceptional Selling