Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life

Perspective is everything. Like in the picture above – using forced perspective, Peter Jackson was able to have Elijah Wood and Sir Ian McKellen together in a scene where one is hobbit-sized and the other human sized without resorting to computer trickery.

I think about perspective a lot when I’m driving. I don’t have a big car, so when I’m on the highway (and thanks to my commute I’m on A LOT of LA highways), I usually can’t see beyond the car in front of me. When traffic is being a pain in the ass I’ll get annoyed at the person in front of me, blaming them for the slowdown – get off your fucking phone!, I’ll think to myself – but when I get into the other lane I’ll get a new perspective on the situation. Sometimes the slowdown is for sure because of the guy in front of me, but sometimes there are extentuating factors.

Here’s one that happened a couple of weeks ago: I was mad at this SUV in front of me, just trundling along in the fast lane while other cars were whizzing by in other lanes. When I finally got an opening I pulled to the right and sped up, and as soon as I did I saw that the SUV was in fact trapped behind a big, slow-moving Lincoln. So I sped up to get a look at the driver of the Lincoln, and maybe give them a bit of stink eye or pull in front of them to remind them what a real driver does on the highway.

It was a little old lady in the Lincoln. Maybe six hundred years old, hunched over the steering wheel in that posture that indicates she’s sitting on a phone book in order to be able to see out the window.

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The Movies Are Still Saving My Life

When I was a kid the movies saved my life. I grew up in a single parent household with a mother whose emotional neglect bordered on abuse; I suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and the parts of my brain that were not broken operated so differently from the other kids that I had a hard time making friends or forging any connections. I found a lot of solace in TV and comics and books, and on TV I began watching movies, which our local stations ran all weekend and after school and late at night. Then I began going to the movies, to the little Main Street Twin (which now somehow has like eight screens), and eventually I took the train into Manhattan to see older and weirder movies. VHS opened the world up for me, and it was off to the races from there.

The movies offered a refuge and an outlet, they let me dream and hope. I was a troubled, poor kid from Queens who couldn’t have been farther from the movie industry, but in that world I saw meaning and in those movies I saw my fears and my dreams reflected back at me. I was so alone all the time, but not when I was watching a movie. 

I spent all of my free time immersed in movies. Eventually I spent ALL of my time immersed in movies, making an unlikely career out of them.

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Nobody Cares That DIE HARD Is A Christmas Movie

It’s the most wonderful time of year: the time when people show up on social media to fight for the idea that Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The thing is… there’s nobody to fight. Nobody really DISAGREES with that position; at most people like me respond to “Die Hard is a Christmas movie!” arguments with “Sure… okay. Whatever. I guess.”

This comes to mind because I saw this tweet from a friend of mine:

 

And I thought it was very funny, but also very true. And not just true about Die Hard As Christmas Movie, but about all things in our lives.

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Being Negative Is Lazy, Easy And Safe

If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that people who are positive and sunny are generally phonies, fakes and full of shit. They are wearing masks that cover that the dark rot at the center of their souls or, if they’re actually happy, they’re only that way because ignorance is bliss. We all know that the darker, more cynical and more depressed someone is the more real they are, the more truth they see and the more they have to say.

I regret to inform you that this is all bullshit. Maybe not the part about the phonies – we live in a society that values image above reality, and so many unhappy people put desperate masks of positivity on, like serial killers spraying perfume to hide the smell of the rotting carcasses of their victims. These people may be giving positivity a bad name. But the rest of it – the idea that only the depressed and the morose and the negative people have truth, especially in the arts, is nonsense.

In fact it might be the exact opposite. The more I learn – or more specifically, the more I unlearn 40 years of cultural conditioning – the more I realize that being negative and cynical is actually living on easy mode. It’s the default setting, it’s the simplest way to be. It’s using your brain exactly as it was evolved to be used and not going above or beyond in any way. It’s lazy, in fact.

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Pete Davidson And The Dark Side Of Civility

Civility: it’s the new dirty word. If you’re a progressive or know progressives you’ve probably heard the word spat in a way that drips with hatred and scorn, often by people who have never so much as shoved another human being but are very, very, very vocally for visiting violence upon people they personally identify as Nazis.

But is civility so bad? Yeah, probably. At least the way that we mean it these days, a way that was personified in the terrible Saturday Night Live segment with Dan Crenshaw this weekend. A quick catch-up in case you have been mercifully unaware of this brouhaha: Pete Davidson, the Lil Xan of SNL, made fun of then-candidate Dan Crenshaw for having one eye (or more accurately for his intense looking eye patch). The world, always looking for things about which to be mad, got up in arms. The next week Crenshaw came on SNL, mocked Davidson in return, and got an apology.

That’s great, right? I mean, I’m a Buddhist who believes in restorative justice, so isn’t this like the best possible outcome from the whole thing – a moment of unity and compassion and forgiveness? You might think that… if you didn’t know Dan Crenshaw’s policies.

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The Words Of My Imperfect Teacher

The first time I met Noah Levine, I thanked him for saving my life. And I meant it; in the weeks after experiencing the consequences of my past actions – I had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman 13 years prior, something I did not recall but responsibility for which I accepted – I had become sober, but I was floundering with how to deal with my new reality. I was shamed, my life as I knew it was over, and I didn’t know how to live with myself. As is common for the newly sober I threw myself into sobriety memoirs; I wanted to read about other people’s hard bottoms and see that they had survived and maybe even flourished afterwards. One of those books I read was Dharma Punx, Noah’s story of being a young drug addict and alcoholic who got sober and got into Buddhist meditation.

The first time I ever meditated it was based on the instructions that Noah wrote in that book. I sat on my couch and focused on my breath, counting each one, starting over if I got distracted. I couldn’t get past four that first time (today I can sometimes get to ten. Don’t set goals in your meditation would be my advice. Just do the thing). I picked up Noah’s other books – Heart of the Revolution, which presented spiritual awakening as a form of guerrilla warfare against a corrupt and degenerate society, and Against the Stream, which really explained the Buddha’s teachings as a form of radical countercultural protest. These things spoke to me deeply.

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Suffering And Acceptance In Video Games (aka CALL OF DUKKHA)

I play Call of Duty online multiplayer. Maybe more than I should; perhaps any COD online is too much, as the game is the opposite of what I am trying to cultivate in my mind. No, this isn’t a military violence thing, rather it’s an acknowledgment that shooters like this are twitch-based games. They are about reflexes and reactions, and I am trying to train my mind to respond more slowly, not more quickly. I think they make me kind of jumpy and amped up in a not-great way.

Maybe I’ll kick the habit, but in the meantime I was playing this morning and noticed some serious dukkha happening in the game. Not to me, although I do notice my own suffering sometimes when the game isn’t going my way. No, I saw it in another guy who was ranting and raving about the other players, whom he was calling the kind of slurs that I as a straight white man cannot repeat.

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Mudita At The Wedding

Schadenfreude is the German word for the feeling of joy you get when something bad happens to someone else. I used to think that it was a credit to the Germans that they had a word for such a delicious emotion, but lately I’ve begun to think that maybe it’s a credit to English that we don’t have one. After selflessly generating a whole lot of schadenfreude back in 2016 I’ve come to look at this emotion in a whole new way.

It’s one of those easy emotions, cheap and dirty, one that makes you feel great in the moment – for a moment – but that leaves you spiritually hungover with the residue of unpleasantness. Negative emotions, even the ones that paradoxically make us feel good in the moment, don’t leave us feeling good in the long run. Schadenfreude is just our worst, most bitter impulses being fed and validated. As Morrissey, the master of negative emotions, sang in We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful:

We hate it when our friends become successful
And if they’re Northern, that makes it even worse
And if we can destroy them
You bet your life we will
Destroy them
If we can hurt them
Well, we may as well
It’s really laughable
Ha, ha, ha

You see, it should’ve been me
It could’ve been me
Everybody knows
Everybody says so
They say :
“Ah, you have loads of songs
So many songs
More songs than they’d stand.”

This song, pointedly, did not play at a wedding I attended last week.

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Elon Musk Is On A One-Man Mission To Prove Money Doesn’t Make You Happy

If I were rich, I would be happy.

This thought came to me more than once this week while cleaning up trash and swabbing out toilets at my day job. But once I confronted the thought it melted away; two years ago today I was making about 400% more money and was about 200% unhappier. I wasn’t even that much more comfortable, to be honest. Somehow I managed to spend all of that extra money and had basically nothing to show for it.

“Money can’t buy you happiness” feels, when you’re poor, like one of the nastiest lies that rich people feed to you. It sounds like a maxim designed to keep you down, to make you stay satisfied with your wretched lot in life, to keep you from encroaching on their hallowed halls of aristocracy.

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This Labor Day Chop Wood And Carry Water

(The image above is Mila Kunis in the some-day cult classic Jupiter Ascending)

If you’ve noticed that I’ve been scarcer than usual here, it’s because I got a day job. A couple of them, actually. One is a work from home part-time thing, but the other is a minimum wage service industry job. It’s very physical and quite menial; I leave work every day bone-tired. Between these two jobs and my Patreon I still don’t make a living wage – the combined income is not enough to even rent a studio apartment in most areas of Los Angeles.

When I got the job I was worried that someone might recognize me as I was cleaning toilets; this isn’t just my enormous ego talking, the job is in a sector that attracts movie fans. On my first day I saw an acquaintance who works on a big TV show; I’m not sure if he saw me, but we didn’t have an interaction. I was grateful for that.

So as you can imagine the kerfuffle about Geoffrey Owens, formerly Elvin on The Cosby Show, has hit home. The actor was spotted – and photographed! – bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s. What followed was a perfect internet storm, first of people mocking the actor and then people getting mad at the people mocking the actor (and thus spreading the photo farther and wider. The internet is the ultimate home of “This tastes like shit, try it.”). A lot of people spoke up about how hard it is to make a living in the arts, and that having a job – any job – is laudable and honorable.

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