Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
I am a casual fan of Christopher Guest and some of his dry parody films, like “A Mighty Wind,” “This is Spinal Tap” and “Best in Show.” So when my friend Angela approached me with a free ticket to a concert last night by Guest and actors Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, in which they sang songs from their films, I said, “Sure!”
(“Free” being the operative word...)
It was a funny show, especially, I suspect, for those who really know the films and the characters. I was a little lost during some of the numbers, but they stand well on their own so you don’t really need a whole lot of context. And all three are genuinely good musicians.
Talk about things I never expected to do!
(Photo: "Mesterious" street art in Brooklyn, May 2009)
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I suspect that computers cause Attention Deficit Disorder.
For all I know, there’s already research to support or reject this suspicion -- I haven’t done any reading on the subject. But I know when I work on the computer I often find myself trying to do ten things at once, and bouncing from one task to the next before I finish any of them. The situation is expecially crazy at work, where I have TWO computers on my desk.
(Oops -- sorry -- I just popped over to iTunes for a minute to see if my search for Ralph Vaughan Williams turned up anything. And it did! Yay!)
I find that I am especially easily distracted if the computer begins performing a task that takes a little time. For example, if I need to download something, I’ll launch into another task while the download occurs -- and then I get wrapped up in that and forget about the download entirely! We’ve all had this happen, I’m sure.
Computers foster this kind of activity because with a few keystrokes you can be off on an entirely different trajectory without ever leaving your seat. (Oops -- pardon me -- my Flickr download is complete so I need to caption my photos. Be right back.)
So, yeah, what was I saying? Oh -- right -- different trajectory. I think there’s something about working with books and papers that’s more focused. You don’t need to wait for a machine to do anything or take you anywhere, so there’s less opportunity for your mind to wander. It can keep sustained concentration on a single subject.
ADD seemed to really rise to prominence at about the same time as computers. And don’t even get me started on video games! Of course, this doesn’t prove causation, but I suspect there is a link -- I think young people would better train their minds to concentrate if they weren’t so scattered in all their electronic activities.
(‘Scuse me for a second while I edit a picture on Flickr now that the photo editing program has launched...)
OK...now...what was I saying?
(Photo: Think twice, Coney Island, March 2009)
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Culinary adventures with Dave continued this weekend! We tried a new restaurant on Sunday evening that specializes in “American Tapas.” We had several cheeses and accompanying pates and relishes, a beet and an asparagus salad, grilled octopus -- which was good but still looked a little too much like an octopus, which made me feel guilty -- and nachos with salmon and caviar! (Who thinks of these things?)
That was after a concert at Carnegie Hall conducted partly by one of Dave’s former professors. Playing were a high school string orchestra, a middle school concert band and a collegiate band of chosen students from around the country. Among other things, we heard Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis,” a favorite of mine.
Then, last night, we made seared scallops here at my apartment, along with some sauteed spinach and a baked dish of layered gruyere, cream and celery root. (Is this really coming from MY kitchen??)
I did get out and walk yesterday afternoon. I went out to Bushwick for a few hours and explored a whole new area, and found some great street art. Also, a friend of mine from the Zendo came over to photograph me in my apartment for a project he’s doing -- somewhat reminiscent of my Japanese adventure. I can’t wait to see how the photos turn out.
(Photo: School buses in Coney Island, March 2009)
Monday, May 25, 2009
I thought it might be time to show you the current state of my apartment. You may remember it from this post, in February 2008, but I’ve made some changes since then. Mainly, I’ve thinned my stuff out even more, which gives me more space.
I gave away some of my artwork, some books and my CDs. I don’t like wires, so I traded in my old, multi-component stereo system for a simple iPod docking station (atop the dresser). And I got rid of the lamp in the corner near my bed, which I always disliked. My only complaint now is that it’s a little dark there!
Armenia likes the spaciousness!
The kitchen stayed pretty much the same. I repainted the whole apartment last Labor Day, but I kept the original color scheme. I got rid of my ancient drip coffee maker and got a stovetop espresso pot, which is what I make coffee in now -- it’s much easier to clean and gives me more counter space.
Overall, the result is a cleaner look and easier maintenance. (Also, I changed cat litters, from clay to a wood pellet litter called “Feline Pine” -- it is SO much cleaner and less dusty than the old stuff. And it’s made in Florida, my old home turf!)
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Yesterday I made it to the gym and then went to meet Dave. It was a clear, sunny morning, so we walked across Central Park, stopping by Bethesda Fountain and Strawberry Fields. We marveled at the variety of musicians busking in the park, from jazz trios with full drum kits to a solo sax player and guys with didgeridoos.
Eventually we made our way to the west side to meet Randall and David, a couple I know through work, to go to a movie, “Angels and Demons.” It was a really fun movie, though utterly absurd.
We also stopped at the Magnolia Bakery, where I was thrilled to find banana pudding with vanilla wafers! Woo hoo! Mrs. Kirkland, the woman who took care of me and my brother during the day when we were kids -- and who was something of a surrogate grandmother -- made amazing banana pudding. This took me right back!
Walking back through the park from the movie, Dave and I stumbled onto a concert by the U.S. Marines at the bandshell. It’s Fleet Week, so the streets of New York are filled with strolling sailors and Marines, and I guess this concert must have been a related event. We stayed for the whole thing -- at first I felt a little like I was in the belly of the beast, a committed leftie wearing my U.S. Peace Corps cap, surrounded by military folks -- but eventually I set that feeling aside and enjoyed our inherent commonality. It was a good performance, right down to “America the Beautiful.”
(I'm so rusty on patriotic protocol. The band played “The Star Spangled Banner” and I sang right along with everyone else, and even remembered to take off my cap. But I realized about halfway through that I put the wrong hand over my heart. And then I wondered whether the hand-over-the-heart thing even applies when we sing the national anthem -- or is that just the Pledge of Allegiance? I’m such an idiot.)
We walked back home via Fifth Avenue, just talking, and spent a quiet evening here, making soup and watching some stuff on YouTube. A great day!
(Photo: Spelling mishap in Bushwick, Brooklyn, May 2009)
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Last night I went out in the East Village with my friend Dan. We found a great little Dominican restaurant with excellent food -- I had plantain fritters and a layered chicken dish made with corn flour and tomatoes. We also had a couple of mojitos, which were quite excellent.
Then we wandered about ten blocks to a laid-back neighborhood gay bar called The Phoenix, and had two or three beers. I wound up getting home about 1:30 a.m.
As you know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, I am the somewhat unusual Drinking Buddhist. I don’t drink a lot, usually, but every once in a while I have a night out. Lately, my drinking has been a bit on the upswing, as Dave and I have been trying different wines with meals and I’ve taken part in the springtime whirl of social events.
I’m beginning to feel a bit conflicted.
Many, if not most, Buddhists are teetotallers. Buddha told his followers not to use alcohol or drugs, and it’s one of the core precepts that we pledge to uphold during jukai, when we more or less “become” Buddhists. Drinking clouds the mind and numbs us to life.
I’m all about balance, though, and as I’ve written before, I think it’s smart to leave some leeway. Sometimes drinks are called for -- on nights out with friends or special occasions, or to heighten the flavors of a special meal. Rarely, when we have a party at the Zendo, we serve wine to those who want a glass or two.
I don’t like the fact that I'm drinking more these days. I think I have a pretty good internal alarm that goes off when I’m becoming unbalanced -- kind of like a washing machine -- and it’s starting to beep and clang. Maybe I need to think more about the terms under which I drink -- a two-drink max? Just beer and wine? Hmmm.
Robert Aitken, in his book “The Mind of Clover,” which is sort of my bible for navigating the precepts, definitely leaves room for alcohol now and then. He points out that Zen masters in the past have enjoyed their wine, and that Bodhidharma says the precept is really about “not giving rise to delusions”:
It is not only drink, or drugs, or tobacco, or coffee, or TV, or whatever. What is happening in your mind? Do you provide your own barbiturates? All of us do, and so all of us violate this precept. It is really the Three Poisons* that this precept is about, self-centered delusions that cloud and darken the mind in our world of Zen practice, and in our application of realization in our everyday life. Victimized by our own separation from others, we drink to break down inhibitions. But when we dwell in that place where every day is truly a good day, a little wine, or the Chinese thrush, or meeting an old friend from far away, can gladden our hearts.
So I think there’s room for a drink or two. But I also think I need to listen to that internal alarm, telling me when to cut back and respect my practice.
*The Three Poisons are greed, anger and ignorance.
(Photo: Huge Cyclops tag in Bushwick, Brooklyn, May 2009)
Friday, May 22, 2009
My office is pretty dead this week -- people are already off for the holiday weekend. On Wednesday I went to lunch in the cafeteria and it was a ghost town. I said to a coworker, “Today isn’t a holiday, is it?” It didn’t even occur to me that people were already gone for Memorial Day.
For people with beach houses, summer places in the Hamptons or the Catskills, this weekend is a big deal. It’s the start of the “season.”
But for me, it’s pretty much just an extra day off! I love spending Memorial Day, and summer for that matter, in the city because everything empties out. It’s so peaceful to walk the streets without dodging oncoming pedestrians, and to be able to get tables in restaurants and seats at performances. I like getting out of town now and then, but I don’t have the urge to rent a retreat and leave long-term.
(Remember that song from The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Summer in the City”?)
Dave came over last night and I cooked for a change -- I made a stir-fry in my wok, and we watched “Muriel’s Wedding,” one of my favorite movies.
(Photo: Graffiti by Curtis, Bushwick, Brooklyn, May 2009)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Practice? What’s that?
Oh, you mean what I haven’t been doing at all in the last couple of weeks -- at least, not in a conscious sense!
Yes, it’s true, my life has been a bit unbalanced lately. From the excitement of meeting Dave, to traveling to L.A. and managing commitments such as the AIDS Walk and routines like the gym, I’ve had very little time. I haven’t been to the Zendo, and I haven’t been sitting.
I suppose I could be practicing with all these activities -- in fact, I suppose I am, on some level -- but I don’t feel as if I’ve kept much of a sense of mindfulness. In fact, I feel like I’ve been zooming along pretty quickly, whipping from one thing to the next.
I know I often say things like this. I like a real sense of slowness, spaciousness and openness, and I miss it when it’s not there. On the other hand, I’m really enjoying all that I’m doing, and an openness to changes in the structure of my life and my habits and routines is important, too.
Reminder to self: Do not envision a false separation between life and practice. It is all intertwined, after all. The same thing, even.
Fortunately, I have no plans for the Memorial Day weekend. So in addition to spending time with Dave, I hope to get back to the Zendo. And I’m about to go sit for a while this morning. Hopefully, I can renew a sense of mindfulness, of being with each busy moment!
(Photo: Oily puddle on a rainy day, April 2009)
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I really have nothing much to say today, so I'm sharing with you some photos I took Saturday. I found a couple of pieces by a graffiti artist known as ChickenKid. I especially like the one on the door above.
My brother was teasing me the other day because when I restarted my blog I made a big stink about busting out of the confines of my once-a-day posting schedule. And yet here I am, posting once a day. I guess that just makes sense to me, and as much as I'd like to be more rebellious, it's my pattern. I am a person of routines!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Yesterday was the annual AIDS Walk here in New York. We had especially yucky weather when we began in the morning -- gray and damp -- but things got better as the day wore on. I walked about 2/3 of the way with my team, but then a coworker and I got separated from the rest of the group when we stopped at the port-o-lets and we never found them again. Oh well!
I raised about $1,500, which made me happy -- if I break $1,000 I figure I'm pulling my weight. (Thanks to those of you who donated, by the way!)
After the walk I came home and crashed. I caught up on reading in the afternoon and watched a very bizarre movie at night: "Rat Pfink a Boo Boo," a 1965 cult classic about a pair of unlikely superheroes. I heard about it through a contact on Flickr. I wouldn't say it was good, but it was definitely...unusual.
(Photo: Financial District, April 2009)
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I’ve been purging my online life a little bit in past days. I deleted my account on LinkedIn, for example, because now that I have Facebook (which is a lot more fun) I don’t really see the need for it. I hadn’t logged in there in months.
I also deleted my Twitter account. I know, I know -- I just wrote about making an effort to Twitter. But that effort lasted exactly one day. Twittering is just not in my blood, nor is reading other people’s Tweets.
I took down my Chemistry.com profile, because now that I’ve met Dave and we’re seeing each other pretty steadily, I don’t want to be bombarded by e-mails about so-and-so wanting to meet me and why haven’t I responded. I’m no playa!
I had a great day yesterday. Gym in the morning, and then a quick trip out to Bushwick, Brooklyn, to do some street art photography. I found lots of new stuff, including the above piece by Bishop203 -- I actually ran into the artist just after he put it up. Pretty funny!
Then I came back into Manhattan and met up with Dave. We spent the evening cooking with Dave’s friend and former student, Stephanie. (More risotto -- chicken this time.) We looked through scrapbooks and photo albums that Stephanie compiled from her high school years. It was actually a lot of fun, even though I don’t know any of the people in the photos -- it gave me a window onto Dave’s career and his interaction with his music students. (Stephanie is the rare example of a student who becomes a friend in adulthood.)
Saturday, May 16, 2009
This pothole developed in the middle of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Every day, thousands of cars and buses and trucks pass right over it. Yet down in the hole itself, in that tiny protected space, grass is growing!
I was reminded of Pete Seeger once again. Nature is truly spectacular, and in its hardiest forms, triumphant.
Friday, May 15, 2009
To revisit the theme of tacky things for sale on West 28th Street, here’s a little gem I picked up last night on my way home from work. I saw it hanging in a shop window and was so struck by the absurdity that I had to have it, if only to make this blog post. Just $4!
This is basically an off-the-rack white Hanes sports bra adorned with a somewhat distorted iron-on of the First Family. It’s one of a variety of available designs featuring the Obamas.
When I went in the store to ask how much it cost, a plus-sized black woman was browsing nearby. She said to a friend, not very sotto voce, “Why would anyone want a Barack Obama sports bra?” Which makes me think the prospects for this product are not good.
And now, having served its purpose in my life, it’s off to Goodwill!
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I went to the Zendo last night for a reading by novelist Rick Moody, who is perhaps best known for writing “The Ice Storm.” He read a new short story and a “collage poem,” in which he takes snippets of text from other writings by or about a subject and puts them together to create poetry. I was intrigued by the technique, though he said it takes immense amounts of reading to find the right components for the new poem.
It was great to meet him and hear more of his work. Ang Lee made a movie version of “The Ice Storm” that’s one of my favorite films ever, partly because I identify with the subject -- growing up in a home with marital discord in the early 1970s. (Plus it has a terrific cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and Sigourney Weaver.)
Last night, I dreamed that my mother wrote a book. It was a fat paperback about her life, illustrated with photos of places she’d been, family members and trips she’d taken. I remember part of it was about the friends and neighbors of my grandparents. In the dream it seemed entirely plausible that she would do such a thing, even though in real life Mom is not one to expound on any subject when writing. When I was in the Peace Corps, I'd get letters from her that were no more than a few sentences long -- and she almost never takes photos. I think Rick Moody must have influenced my dreams!
(Photo: Street art in Hollywood, May 2009)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I’ve loved “Star Trek” ever since I was a little kid. I’m part of the generation that never saw the show in its original, prime-time slot, but grew up watching it every afternoon after school, when it was shown in syndication on local UHF channels. (Channel 44 out of Tampa, in my case.) I got to know every character and every episode.
Much has been written about how progressive the shows were, emphasizing a tolerant approach to different cultures and species and empathy for other beings. Gene Roddenberry gave the show a remarkably diverse cast, looking forward to the day when people looked beyond skin color and nationality.
In high school, some of my friends even wrote “Star Trek” fan fiction, making up their own stories about the Enterprise and its crew. Yet I don’t think I’m really a Trekkie. I wouldn’t be into attending a fan convention or gathering, and I don’t know all the minutiae that some serious fans do.
My interest pertains only to the original series. I have never followed any of the newer versions of the TV show, and I’ve only seen some of the movies. For me, part of the charm and effectiveness of “Star Trek” comes from its ‘60s sensibility, with the go-go-booted uniforms and women wearing impossible space-age gowns. I have the originals on DVD and it’s like comfort food to watch one and realize I know exactly what’s going to happen, right down to the dialogue and the campy background music. (Those shows also had the best titles: "For the World is Hollow, and I Have Touched the Sky," "The City on the Edge of Forever.")
Still, I was looking forward to seeing the new “Star Trek” movie, and I’m glad my enthusiasm wasn’t misplaced. It’s a great show. Even the critics seem to like it, which is saying something. (Anthony Lane’s review in The New Yorker is the funniest, though not the most complimentary. He described the enemy ship as looking like “a dozen Philippe Starck lemon squeezers clumped together and dipped in squid ink,” which is about the best description I’ve read so far. And I gotta wonder if it’s the first time The New Yorker used the word “dickhead” in print.)
As Steven Mikulan notes in L.A. Weekly, not everyone is happy with the Enterprise’s more youthful crew. Some are disturbed by the absence of Latino or outwardly gay crew members. (It says a lot about the changes in our country’s population that Roddenberry, while trying to build such a diverse crew, didn’t think to include any Hispanics.) Mikulan memorably describes the movie as “a gay fable without gays -- after all, it's about a confused pretty boy growing up in Iowa who moves to San Francisco to find his identity in tight-fitting clothes and boots.”
The new film respects the old show, yet gives its characters more backstory (in some cases a very improbable backstory). And with all due respect to Leonard Nimoy, Zachary Quinto makes the most adorable Vulcan I’ve ever seen.
Run, don’t walk!
(Photo: Apropos of nothing, a lion stencil in Hollywood, May 2009)
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I can see why California earned a sort of mythical status among Americans back in the middle of the last century, when our culture was centered more or less on the snowy, gray, industrial northeast and midwest. It can be really beautiful out there. This weekend was unbelievable -- sunny but cool, jacarandas blooming in clouds of purple, jasmine scenting the air. It was like a pop song, “California Dreamin’,” maybe.
My friends Christopher and Gerardo live near West Hollywood, right between Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards -- a green oasis of a neighborhood. They just got a new apartment, and their balcony has a view of downtown Hollywood, the Hollywood sign up in the hills, and downtown L.A. in the distance. Pretty swank!
On Saturday we went to Venice Beach and walked around a bit. It’s always a lively spot, with its beachfront tattoo emporiums and cafes. On Sunday we went to LACMA, the art museum, and saw its exhibit on Pompeii, which included some really stunning pieces of Roman art. We took in a couple of excellent movies, “Star Trek” and “Outrage,” and went to dinner one night with some of their friends.
I also did some exploring in their neighborhood, shooting small pieces of street art and grabbing coffee at The Coffee Bean on Sunset. I went running Sunday morning along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which I always like to do when I’m out there -- if you go early enough, there are no people around, and being reminded of all the entertainment greats of the past diverts you from thinking about how tired your legs are!
(Photo: Palm shadows in West Hollywood)
Friday, May 8, 2009
This is the handrail on the stairs at the Museum of Natural History. Isn't it amazing? I love the details in old buildings.
I'm off to Los Angeles this morning on an early flight, for a quick visit with my friends Christopher and Jerry. I'll be back in the blogosphere on Tuesday!
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I’ve been thinking about the “Craigslist Killer,” that once-promising young medical student in Boston who stands accused of killing one woman and robbing others he met on areas of Craigslist reserved for seeking sexual favors.
The story is fascinating because it runs counter to all our expectations. Here’s a good-looking guy with an attractive fiancee and a bright future, and what appears to be a typically middle-class American background. He didn’t seem to lack anything. And yet ultimately, if the charges are true, he lacked something very basic at his core.
There have been continuing revelations about his online sexcapades. The primary motive in the crimes may have been robbery, but certainly there was some sexual activity, given his alleged proclivity for keeping the victims’ underwear. To me, the episode is a lesson in how supremely creepy things can get when desire becomes detached from humanity -- when the desirer entirely objectifies others and ceases to think of them as individuals, as humans.
A couple of years ago Greg Kinnear starred in a screen biopic of Bob Crane, the actor best known as Hogan in “Hogan’s Heroes.” In the movie, Crane started out in the early 1960s as a family man with a mischievous interest in sexual adventure -- light pornography and that sort of thing. By the end of the film, the guy was utterly consumed by porn and swinging, to the point that he couldn’t behave properly in public. His sensibilities had become so skewed that he was incapable of everyday interaction. And indeed, he was killed by someone he met through these dark sexual adventures.
I am no puritan when it comes to porn. It’s a fact of daily life, and certainly online life, and I would not want to see it censored or subjected to some ninny’s idea of what’s acceptable. Free speech reigns supreme.
The danger -- ironically similar to the dangers posed by religion as I expressed them recently -- is in the extremes. When people can’t guide their desires, and allow themselves to be swept away, they become detached from themselves and from others. They lose all sense of humanity. Our culture fosters this kind of thing through not only porn but oversexualized images in advertising and the easy sex available through sites like Craigslist.
I think that’s what happened to the Craigslist guy. He lost his moorings. Why it happens to some people and not others, I can only guess -- I suspect it has something to do with lacking a strong sense of identity. If indeed he is guilty, perhaps that's what’s missing at his core.
(Photo: Ghosts and monsters in the Financial District, April 2009)
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Dave and I went to The Spotted Pig last night, an excellent restaurant in Greenwich Village. It’s like a gourmet English pub, and despite the name it serves more than pork! I had a terrific celery, fennel and watercress salad with bottarga in a lemony dressing, and pan-roasted guinea fowl with morel mushrooms. Dave had ramp soup and braised rabbit with ramps. We’d seen fiddleheads on the online menu and were eager to have some, but unfortunately they weren’t available yesterday. Oh well.
(It still seems a little strange to me that people consider fiddleheads food, considering they used to grow in the swamp behind my house in Florida!)
It’s been great to spend time with Dave, because he knows so much about food. He’s shown me a lot of things I wouldn’t have known before, and taken me to places I wouldn’t have gone. I guess that’s the way dating should work when it goes well, right? I feel like I’m learning a lot, and my Progresso soup bill has already been greatly reduced!
I, meanwhile, have taken him along on at least one street-art walk, with hopefully more to come. We’re doing the AIDS Walk together on May 17, and I have a backlog of movies and restaurants of my own to share. We have great conversations. There’s a lot of city to explore!
(Photo: Wall in Dumbo, Brooklyn, April 2009)
Monday, May 4, 2009
This is what yesterday looked like -- misty and rainy. From the looks of things outside right now, today will be very similar.
It’s actually kind of pleasant. I went to the Zendo yesterday morning, and it was nice sitting inside in a cozy space, listening to the rain and the cars on the wet streets. Then I came home and stayed in all afternoon, catching up on some reading, talking to friends on the phone and watching a movie.
I went to bed at about 10 p.m. and slept eight hours, as I’ve been doing pretty consistently for the last several nights. I got really worn out last week. It feels great to rest up!
(Photo: Rain on the horse chestnut outside my window, yesterday.)
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Yesterday's weather turned out much better than expected. I went to the gym in the morning and then met up with Dave for lunch at the Stargate Diner on the Upper East Side, near my old apartment on 90th Street. We walked across Central Park to the Museum of Natural History, stopping at Belvedere Castle to check out the scene overlooking the turtle pond and the Great Lawn. Lots of people were out and the sun was shining.
I wasn't thrilled about the prospect of visiting the museum, because it's always packed with kids and strollers and why do I want to see a bunch of dusty dioramas, anyway? But it turned out to be a lot of fun. The dioramas aren't nearly as dusty as I remembered -- at least, most of them -- and after wandering through the displays you can't help but marvel at the universe, genetics, and all the things we do and don't know.
For example, how do we know what's at the core of the earth, when we're really only able to scratch the surface?
The dinosaurs were pretty great, too. They always bring out the little kid in me, and though it's a cliche, they're great reminders that what seems permanent is actually transient and ephemeral.
(Photo: Financial District, April 2009)
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Not much to report today. It's supposed to be rainy this weekend, so I'm not sure how much photography I'm going to get done. But the good thing is, I'll finally have a chance to get back to the Zendo -- I haven't done any sitting in about two weeks and I'm definitely feeling the need to get back to my practice.
It's been a very busy week. I saw a play on Thursday night called "Cathedral" at a small theater in Greenwich Village -- it's by a guy named Joseph Pintauro who wrote some books I enjoyed years ago. I actually got to meet him, which was an added bonus. The play itself is interesting, if just a bit muddled -- it's about accusations of an inappropriate sexual relationship between a teenager and a priest. Tickets are only $18, so it was worth that.
Wednesday I went to dinner with my friend Fred, and last night I had drinks with my friend David, before coming home to watch "I'm Not There" on DVD. It's Todd Haynes' movie about Bob Dylan, in which different actors play different aspects of his personality. It's a bizarre movie, and I wouldn't say I loved it, but it was an interesting attempt at something different. (I'm not particularly enamored of Dylan. I think he's an excellent songwriter, but that's where it ends.)
(Photo: Financial District, April 2009)
Friday, May 1, 2009
I’ve been reading Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” for the last several weeks (or more accurately, often NOT reading it, since I’ve been incredibly busy and have been able to spend less time with it than I would like). Hitchens argues that religion has poisoned our societies and that we should turn toward reason and allow faith to expire.
I wouldn’t say that I come from a deeply religious background, and I agree that reason should be the foundation of our modern societies -- the place where all of us interact and share ideas, perspectives and scientific knowledge.
However, I think Hitchens makes two major mistakes in this book.
The first is that he chooses the most extreme examples of religious behavior and uses them to represent the whole. The militant Buddhists in Sri Lanka, for example, are hardly representative of the world’s millions of non-violent Buddhists -- just as Jerry Falwell and his ilk are not representative of the bulk of the world’s Christians, and the Taliban doesn’t represent most Muslims. Moderates in any of those religions may feel some kinship with their extreme wings, but they likely disagree with extremist tactics and extremist philosophy.
Second, Hitchens argues that we should embrace hard science and jettison faith in considering our view of the world and the universe. He picks apart the Bible as a flawed document written and rewritten by mortals, and says:
“Though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of God is the problem to begin with. Our evolution has been examined ‘backward,’ with life temporarily outpacing extinction, and knowledge now at last capable of reviewing and explaining ignorance. Religion, it is true, still possesses the huge if cumbersome and unwieldy advantage of having come ‘first.’ But as Sam Harris states rather pointedly in ‘The End of Faith,’ if we lost all our hard-won knowledge and all our archives, and all our ethics and morals, in some Marquez-like fit of collective amnesia, and had to reconstruct everything essential from scratch, it is difficult to imagine at what point we would need to remind or reassure ourselves that Jesus was born of a virgin.”
I think this ignores a deep-seated visceral need that many people have for spirituality. It’s the way they process wonder at the world and its intricacy, and at the mysteries of life and death. My own Buddhist practice (moribund as it is at the moment) answers something in me that science does not.
I do agree that our public policy decisions should be made with respect for science and with an eye toward common benefit for people of all religions -- that’s where the world, including our own country, has continually fallen short. Extremism, and its accompanying we’re-right-and-you’re-evil philosophies, is clearly a menace. But we shouldn’t demonize all of religion for the sake of a few lunatics, and we should recognize that it brings us as much beauty as despair.
(Photo: Old sign outside an industrial site in Brooklyn, February 2009)