Zen Mind, Film Critic’s Mind

People say being a movie critic is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in a dark movie theater and watch a movie, or to go home and write your opinions about that movie. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our criticism pure in its fundamental sense. Film criticism developed in many ways after the advent of the internet, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Rotten Tomatoes or the blurbing of random Twitter handles. I am interested in helping you keep your criticism from becoming impure.

Okay, I could keep going, rephrasing the first chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the Buddhist masterpiece by Shunryu Suzuki, to fit into a discussion of film criticism, but I don’t think anybody would get it. I will however keep lifting concepts and ideas from this seminal work, which is mostly about zazen – Zen meditation – but that is also about how to live and create with a beautiful clarity and fluidity by getting back to a beginner’s mind.

Which brings me to the films of John Carpenter.

Continue reading “Zen Mind, Film Critic’s Mind”

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.

Continue reading “This Labor Day Chop Wood And Carry Water”

Do No Evil

The problem of evil! It consumes Western Abrahamic philosophy – how can a God who is both all-powerful and all-good allow evil into His universe? People tie themselves up in knots trying to answer this one (without taking a step back and wondering if their base assumptions about God are, in fact, not correct). And it’s not just the West that struggles with the nature of evil; even supposedly non-dualistic Eastern philosophies spend time trying to figure out why evil exists.

But what if it doesn’t? I’m not a Zen Buddhist, but I’ve been reading a book about the philosophy of Zen Buddhist icon Dogen, and his thoughts on evil are really intriguing to me. The basic idea: there’s no such thing as evil. Evil isn’t a thing. It’s an action.

Continue reading “Do No Evil”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I don’t practice in the Zen tradition, but I’m finding ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND to be an incredible book (I’m listening to the audiobook read by Peter Coyote, which really adds a wonderful layer to the whole thing). Much of the book has been meaningful to me, but I was really struck by this idea:

When your cart is stuck what do you whip – the horse or the cart? Whipping the stuck cart will get you nothing. But hitting the horse will help get the cart moving again.

Too often when we have problems we go after the problems, but we should be going after ourselves. When we change ourselves and how we relate to the problems, the problems vanish. The conditions may remain – there is still the cart and the road – but the way we relate to those conditions are different, and thus there are no problems.

We are trained to look outside ourselves for both the causes and the solutions to our problems, but the reality is that all of our problems come from within. Our difficulties are caused by how we interact with things in our lives, not by the things themselves. To learn to relate to all things in our lives with equanimity and non-attachment is to learn to transcend every difficulty we might ever face.