Thursday, June 17, 2004

Books and Movies

Immobilized by tendinitis in my foot, I've been sitting back a whole lot with my foot up, doing a lot of reading and movie watching. Some would say it's about time I got these things back to the library. Like many library workers, I keep renewing them until the system won't let me, then I rush through them, and return them late. (Yes, I still have to pay fines.)

Book: I'm going to have to return The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, mostly unread. Karen Armstrong has written histories of religions and biographies such as Buddha (which I hear is rather good for a Penguin book). Her experience as a postulant and novice Catholic nun struck me as so similar to the stories I have heard about our Buddhist monks going through. I have to wonder if our founding mother Jiyu Kennett wasn't influenced by Catholicism in England in all that. All the ways they are treated are designed to extinguish the ego. In Armstrong's case the purpose of those rules and rituals were to make her a vessel for God's purpose. Perhaps someday I can get back to this, but right now the hold list is a mile long.

Documentary: There are certain things that need to be seen, heard, or read by all European Americans occupying North America. Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story is one of them. I grew up where the prevailing (racist) opinion was that those Indians should accept that they live in America, and should live by the laws Americans have to live by, i.e. they shouldn't get special hunting and fishing rights. Naturally any news coverage of AIM back then portrayed them as violent extremists. Not only does this film reveal the racist circumstances of Leonard Peltier's trial (and that he didn't do it), it sheds some light on those dramatic AIM incidents in the mid 70s. Perhaps because it was not central to the theme, the documentary did not explore the federal government's complicity in native on native crime. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was a war zone between traditionalists helped by AIM and contemporary natives that dominated tribal government. Goon squads, quasi deputies, targetted the traditionalists and AIM, yet their murderous activities did not receive the federal attention that AIM's did. Sadly, such an incident as that at Oglala looks inevitable considering the tension and fear that existed on the reservation at that time. It occurs to me that Leonard Peltier symbolically holds the karma of his people, and does so rather gracefully. No matter what transpired that day, he is a political prisoner. This gets an A.

Movie: Did Christian Slater always look old? I thought he appeared a little old to play a teenager in Pump Up the Volume, but it turns out he was only around twenty at the time. This is a movie for every outcast (like me) who lived through some painful teen years. It also tells a compelling story about the way free speech is gnawed away by fear and denial. As teen movies go it gets an A, but otherwise, a B-.

Movie: Hollywood stars try to show how real they are in The Anniversary Party. They do that, but somehow something is missing. Maybe they are too close to it. But mmmm, Phoebe Cates was delicious (and real). I dunno, maybe it doesn't work for me because they're all just too skinny, or maybe because it was more like an acting exercise than a movie with a Hollywood plot. Still, I sorta liked it. C

Movie: Amy's O. I thought it was going to be about sex. Instead it was all about a Jewish girl dispensing love advice who is afraid of intimacy and who falls for a movie version of Howard Stern who (surprise surprise, how Hollywood) is not so sexist after all. Gets a C. Now Secretary, which I saw awhile back, was about sex, and gets an A!

Movie: So it's an evil corporation, but I like the movies! Disney's Summer of the Monkeys has all the requisites of a good kid's movie: cute animals, siblings watching out for each other and growing up, a grandpa that helps the kid get through it all, and parents that recognize the adult emerging in the child. Oh yeah, and an irascible hermit. But did they have to go with Wilford Brimley for the grandpa? B.

Still reading: Published in 1998, Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World by Eduardo Galeano is packed with facts about U.S. and corporate pirating of the world's labor and resources. This takes awhile, but is another required US citizen read. Most of us americanos del norte enjoy a standard of living that can only exist because somewhere else, and even somewhere here, someone suffers. I think we need to face that, and be humble. Still, it's rather depressing, and I am inclined to read it a little at a time and put it down.

The friend who recommended Galeano tells me he has mixed feelings about enjoying something distinctly American, considering the racist and classist history of domination that brought this country its riches. At times like this I have to remember the Buddhist meal verse, and apply it to all the things of this rich life I enjoy:

This meal is the labor of countless beings,
let us remember their toil.
Defilements are many and exertions weak,
do we deserve this off’ring?
Gluttony stems from greed,
let us be moderate.
Our lives are sustained by this offering,
let us be grateful.
We take this food to attain the Buddha Way.

Whether the offering was given freely, or it was forced from the world's poor through violence and exploitation, I have received this offering. Circumstances put me in this position. The least I can do is remember the countless beings that have suffered for my sake, be moderate in my consumption, and do what good I can because I am able. This is only the beginning of a thought...I'm sure I'll return to this theme.

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