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Archive for the ‘Television & Film’ Category

I’ve been meaning to post here for awhile. But things got busy. And of course, there’s the holidays. Etc. Etc.

It was a year ago that I began this blog. My intent was to try to post twice weekly. I had some success with it at first, but it wasn’t easy, as final drafts take more work to pull off than the initial scribbles that birth them. Perhaps it was the perfectionist in me taking over, rechecking several times when I knew there would be other eyes involved, though this may go against the grain of blog style and sense. Then I whittled my appearances here down to weekly, before eventually showing up sporadically or not at all for lengthy spells.

But there have been some writing successes this past year. Perhaps the biggest: I wrote my first book.

It’s a book I coauthored with a dear friend of many years, and with whom I’d often dreamed of collaborating together since we first met in Fort Worth in 1995. A chaplain in the Air Force, my friend, James, sought to turn his doctoral dissertation into something suitable for a wider audience. So in July of 2009 while visiting Orlando with his family, James invited me to help him with his project. And about a year and some cumulative 250 hours later, I finished my contributions to the work. It’s a book geared for helping pastors and laypeople who desire to walk with people on their journeys toward God, especially those who are spiritual but may not be particularly inclined toward church.

I’ve also recently been working on some pieces for possible inclusion in a new magazine devoted to the intersection of art, creativity, and the spiritual life. I’m pretty excited as it gives me opportunity to dig into an area I’m pretty passionate about, a place where God met me eight years ago and brought me great joy, particularly after picking up a book by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way, which helped me to cultivate a sensibility that our creative impulses aren’t just something that makes for a nice pastime. They often are the doorway to weighty matters, meant to be nurtured and developed, like a calling, and a place where God loves to show up, as all true creativity hails from the mind and heart of God.

Speaking of Ms. Cameron, of everything she preaches, the most important is a practice she calls Morning Pages. The idea is to spend 30 minutes at the beginning of the day writing freehand for about three pages. She contends that nothing will kickstart your creativity like this practice (along with taking time at least once a week for “Artist’s Dates”—time you set aside just for yourself doing whatever activity it is that is fun, brings you joy, and releases the heart of the child within). Moreover, you’ll see the payoff not just in showing up to the pages, but in your daily routine and relationships as it enhances these, whether artist or attorney by trade.

In short, I agree, as I became a disciple of the practice myself, awkwardly beginning one day on a bus ride from Christchurch, New Zealand over the Southern Alps en route to the west coast community of Greymouth, while passing through Lord of the Rings country (These doses of beauty—great stuff for Artist’s Dates—really do help the process). In about three weeks time, I began to notice a shift taking place, where my morning musings did not have to be coddled to come forth; rather, they began to burst forth onto the page. And the quality of the work reflected this over the course of the next year.

So while you’d think I know how to follow my own advice on this, I realized over the past few years that though I journaled frequently, and usually early in the morning, I had long since stopped making my handwritten work the locus of activity, choosing to type it out on my laptop instead. I’m not saying one always trumps the other; do whatever works for you. But having a conversation about this with my writing coach, Jamie Morris, about a year ago, I realized that it may do me good to return to “Old School” Morning Pages again. So that is exactly what I’ve been doing now for about two months. Some days, it feels like routine. But on the whole, it is helping me return to a creative center.

Another creative endeavor of note: It looks like the short film I wrote and directed in a summer class out in LA over two years ago may see the light of day, going from a hard drive in storage to an upload on Vimeo or YouTube. That may not seem like much given how multimedia savvy we are nowadays, where your neighbor’s kid may have put out a better production than Steven Speilberg’s first piece in film school. However, I’m deeply grateful for that experience, facilitated by my writer/director/producer friend, Jim Lindsay (Jim’s spent many good years creating primetime programming for NBC and the History Channel among others.).

Anyway, the principle acting role in the film was by a young woman who is beginning to make some great connections in Hollywood, as she just worked with the writer/director of an up-and-coming A-lister filmmaker on his latest project. So it will help her in getting more exposure as she pursues her dreams. And if I can get another published credit out there myself, so much the better.

That’s all for now. I will return in the New Year.

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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

– Hebrews 11:1

The other night I received a call from an old friend whom I’d not talked with in a couple of years. Over the course of the next hour, we played cross country catch up on the intervening period since our paths last crossed.

Then Josh, my friend, asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Are you still doing anything with film?”

Two summers ago, not long before the last time we’d spoken, I’d flown out to Los Angeles to study for a few weeks under a modestly successful filmmaker there who was offering takers the chance to make their own short films while soaking up an industry insider’s perspective, and for dirt cheap. People from all walks of life showed up: some already working in the industry; others wanting to break in; some already enrolled in good film schools; and even one socially active senior who wanted to raise awareness on a neglected population living within his community by making a documentary.

The philosophy of our instructor: “Just do it.” Start making film, as nowadays you shouldn’t have to go to an expensive film school in order to enter the industry and do good work.

A few years earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a wild lark. And even when going, the idea of the LA Dream Factory was not all that appealing to me. On paper, as a recent graduate from a counseling program, it almost didn’t make sense. Yet having time in my schedule as I was unemployed, and offered an invitation that spoke to something deep inside, I headed to LA.

But to my friend’s question—with the brief exception of beginning a screenplay turned novel last year—I answered with a quiet “No.” That that part of my life is on the shelf for now.

On one hand, it wasn’t easy to hear Josh’s words because they elicited an ache. An ache underscored by feeling called to live a certain way over the last eight-plus years which for the most part has been hard and had relatively few outward signs of success, where there have been many brick walls, disappointments, distractions, and temptations while seeking to honor this sense of call.

But this isn’t a story about film; it’s a story about desire. And being invited into my story by a friend who knows me—who sees me, and gets me—was a great kindness. Though recognizing my difficulty, Josh was glad that I have not deadened myself to desire. That I still live with it.

As I put it to him, I’m at a place in my life where there are certain things that I have no other possible way to reckon them now but by faith. They just seem too impossible, and out of reach. Foolish.

To live by faith is to live with the ache of desire. It is the calling to live as an artist—seeing into being those things which do not yet exist, carried by what William Blake called a “firm persuasion.”

When drawn into territory where there are no clear road maps, can you be a fool? Will you be a fool?

I’ve often been tempted to be too practical for my own good, and at some of the worst possible times. But due to the apparent foolishness I’ve succumbed to in recent years, why begin now?

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Last night I happened upon a Travel Channel special, “Donut Paradise,” that took me on a welcomed trip down Nostalgia Lane as the spotlight was shone on one of my old haunts—Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle, Washington.

Variously described as the “Donut Lounge”—and with its hip Modernist architecture, likened to a cross between a library and wine bar—patrons of Top Pot get more than great doughnuts. They get an experience.

I know full well. I first stumbled onto Top Pot in late 2004 when Seattle area Starbucks started offering some of their items. I was impressed, but did not yet know of the true wonder of a fresh doughnut from the source. (NOTE: Some Starbucks outside of Washington have started offering Top Pot, but in my experience so far, these both look and taste pretty poor.)

Then I took a job a couple blocks away from Top Pot’s downtown store on 5th Avenue. Walking by it daily to and from the bus stop, eventually I dropped in one morning.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Sometimes, there are little pleasures in life that deliver ridiculously far more than we should expect. But for only $1.63, a Top Pot Old Fashioned Glazed Doughnut sent me to a very happy place.

Less than a year after my initial Donut Lounge experience, I moved into an apartment nearby in Lower Queen Anne. Once in awhile, I would plan an afternoon walk some eight blocks away for no other reason than the pleasure of just sitting for awhile at Top Pot and enjoying an Old Fashioned Glazed off a plate.

I may as well have been dining with royalty; doing Manhattan’s Russian Tea Room; or fed pureed truffles intravenously. In those moments, it was my little slice of heaven.

Inside and outside, the Donut Lounge was a fully integrated experience. The good vibes of store and staff, the clean architecture, the lighting, the music, and “hand-forged doughnuts” never more than a couple of hours old guaranteed a blissful experience repeatable every time. And while I sometimes met friends there, Top Pot was one of those places I did not mind going to alone; it only allowed me more space to distill the experience to its true essence.

When weather was good, sitting at a table outside added another dimension to my delight. What could possibly be better following several days of Seattle rain than soaking up the sun and fresh air while sitting under Top Pot’s signature neon sign? This, along with an Old Fashioned Glaze Doughnut on a plate, of course, parceled out to as many bites as I could extend it. The whir of the monorail overhead every few minutes. The honking of cars and buses that seemed to recede into the distance once doughnut victuals began…

I really miss you, Top Pot.

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“I always thought that the spine of the character is awe and wonder.”

– William Shatner

I’ve been reading in the Psalms recently (28-31). The one place at present where my heart seems able to show up in coming to the Scriptures. I love David’s naturalistic lens for experiencing God. Particularly 29:3-10. The NIV Study Bible, not always reliable with its reference notes to the questions coming out of my reading, nevertheless suggests in v. 29 that “the temple” may refer to all of his creation being his temple.

In watching Earth’s Wonders on the Travel Channel the other day about the world’s best places—showcasing many which I’ve had the privilege to see—all the more I get the sense of how it was meant to be. And say, “Yes! The whole world is Your temple.” And then with some amount of bafflement, marvel at many of the people filling churches on a Sunday morning, at those who’ve never felt inclination to step out into the world and experience the God of the Wild. And sometimes wonder just what and who it is that they may be singing and praying to.

The self-revealing God of the Hebrews perhaps hidden once more in plain sight. Or out of sight, as may be the case here—as hearts on pilgrimage, or going up to Zion, or to the temple—seem so apparently not so in some cases, but settling for something far less instead. Cartoonish, childish even, when considering the spirit whom they seek to commune with.

Like those strange cargo cults of the South Pacific; or the people encountering an ominous message from a mysterious “V’ger” in an otherwise horrible Star Trek: The Motion Picture; or the intrusion of a Coke bottle into the lives of Kalahari Bushmen and the misadventures that follow in The Gods Must Be Crazy—where the divine transmission has apparently gotten jammed—one wonders, Where is God in all of this? And Why don’t they want to see Him in his earthly temple?

John Muir understood this, whose naturalistic spirituality was infused with a rich biblical depth, and of whom stories are recounted of scrambling up into tall trees to experience a storm’s power. Maybe some of these places are the wonders that for some of us God one day hoped to be the settings of our encounter with him, like Moses and Elijah in the wilderness before us. Or like that guy Jesus even, who spent a lot of time retreating there.

But instead of the God of Holy Fear and Wonder, we settled for that old god of stern harshness and legal-moral asceticism. And we settled for the old god of the fertility rite—only castrated and retrofitted with religious garb and ecstasies of another sort, people falling all over themselves in a “I can’t get enough of this stuff” swooning fervor.

Perhaps some of this sounds unkind. I don’t mean to say God doesn’t show up in some very similar-appearing circumstances. God after all is God, whose redemptive history has seemed much about giving us a long time to figure that fact out, and not to confuse Him with the things, circumstances, and practices we make Him out to be in—attractive or not.

For one thing, God seems to have a penchant for showing up in the dirt—where we’d least think or want to find him—in the seemingly pointless desert wanderings of a young nation; or the example of a naked prophet; or whoring of a wayward wife; or piss and dung-soiled straw of a small Judean stable.

But the element that seems missing for me toward the people in question here: Where is the courageous stepping out to meet such a God as found in these other places? Or the at-once terrifying but ultimately transformative showdowns? Like Lt. Dan during the hurricane in Forrest Gump, or before him, like Job putting on his best bluster before God humbled him in silence.

Like C.S. Lewis once said, it’s like God has invited us to a holiday at the beach, but instead like children we have settled for making mud cakes out of a puddle.

Go figure…

Storm Coming on the Patagonian Steppe / Brian Bragdon

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The 82nd Academy Awards took place Sunday night. The critics have already given us their takes, variously repeating back to us how they think we felt about them, or else how we should have felt. How tag-team hosting by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin fell flat, or how they did fairly well, depending who you hear. And of course, there’s the talk on it being a night of firsts, the biggest being the first ever female winning for “Best Director,” for Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. It’s the kind of talk that’s meant to sell audiences.

But all punditry aside, I had a few observations of my own. First off, Kathryn Bigelow is hot!

While this wasn’t really discussed during the ceremonies, with the focus instead given to her artistic talent, former marriage and continuing collaboration with fellow contender James Cameron, and of course, the strong possibility of her making history… blah, blah, blah… I had to wonder, “Man, does anyone else think this woman is really attractive?” And at 58, pretty hot! (Or any age for that matter.) To confirm my hunch, I later punched in “Kathryn Bigelow is” on Google to see what would pre-fill. And sure enough, “Kathryn Bigelow is hot” showed up, with thousands of hits. A couple times during the show, they spoke with James Cameron about her. Not known for a subdued ego, “I’m the king of the world!” Cameron nevertheless offered fairly glowing praise for his ex, as well he should. Yet despite how positive their relationship may be today, all I could think was, “Man, you idiot!”

Then there was the notable true Cinderella story of Gabourey Sidibe, star of another indie favorite, Precious. Throughout the night, Gabourey glowed as she shared top billing with the world’s most famous and beautiful people, based on her freshman film effort. It was really cool to see how so many people responded to this new star with genuine warmth and praise, in a town often known for its obsession with outward beauty and status. Yet, I found one response to be telling, when speaking of Sidibe’s performance, someone asked with amazement Where did this come from? In other words, how did someone without a Hollywood pedigree command such attention?

While I have yet to see Precious (As with many, one of the things I like about the Oscars is getting the popular and critical buzz on films I’ve yet to see and might enjoy.), I was not surprised at all. Not everyone may have it within them to put forth an Oscar-winning performance, but I have this conviction that everyone has within them a glory to bring to the world. A glory that when truly seen, should cause people to go, “Whoa!” Of course, how often do we truly see another person’s glory? Or how often if ever have we been able to tap into this inner place and get seen? Which at least makes the surprise behind the question somewhat understandable.

While it did get slow at times, at certain points I was aware of some warm fuzzies coming over me. For example, there was the moving tribute to the late John Hughes, creative genius behind such classics as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Home Alone. But I think this is about more than nostalgia. For I don’t care who I talk to, but practically every person I’ve ever met has some sort of emotional attachment or response to certain stars and films. We need bright and shining stars of some sort to inspire us, whether in our actual lives, or at a cultural or artistic level, as with celebrities. While it can be taken to excess, I don’t think such attraction is lame. And nothing seems to span the chasm in our existential aloneness than our common intrigue with art—and story in particular. All the better, however, when such inspiration offers something authentic and personal or something transcending the status quo, as with Sidibe and Bigelow.

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Last night I was watching Lost. There’s a scene in this episode where a paraplegic  John Locke is being interviewed by an HR representative with a temp agency.

She asks him the question, What kind of animal do you see yourself as?

Always a straight shooter who’s never given to mincing his words, John perplexedly looks at the young woman and goes, “Excuse me?”

What follows is a humorous yet painfully real example of how a thing meant to be a helpful tool has become an obstacle instead. In this case, John can quickly see that he is going to be in trouble if he tries to jump through the hoops of squeezing his personality into a mythic animal type in order to get toward his desired objective: a job. With the woman unwilling to drop the question, Locke cuts to the chase and asks to speak with her supervisor. The young woman acquiesces to his request, but it’s clear from her expression that she is not happy being overstepped in the process, her own power and credibility hung out to dry.

In the next scene, we see Locke talking with the HR supervisor, Rose Nadler, who laughs with him as he begs her not to make him tell her what kind of animal he is. In essence, she agrees that he shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of becoming something he’s not in order to try to honor who he really is. What follows is an example of someone using their position of power with a true awareness of how their decisions will impact others. Rose understands that she holds power and influence. But she doesn’t try to hide behind it, dismissing or ignoring this seeming nobody in order to fill her quotas or stroke her ego. She really does try to help Locke. We also get the sense that her judgment comes from possessing something that the younger employee under her does not: wisdom. As is usually the case, Rose’s wisdom is born out of life experience—experience that includes suffering—and in her case, having terminal cancer. And because of it, John’s frustrations with having limited options or being overlooked by others is not lost on her. But she doesn’t indulge his fantasies either (John tells her he wants to work on a construction site), carrying an even-minded realism in tandem with her compassion.

I bring this story up because it provides some good insights into the daunting challenge of finding work, particularly in this economy, as well as finding work that you’re passionate about or would be good at.

In my own job search process, it wasn’t too long ago that I applied for a really cool sounding position at a large non-profit organization. I already had some acquaintance with them for years and a great respect for what they do. In addition to having what I felt to be good qualifications, I was able to drop the name of a higher-ranking employee I knew there as well as those of a couple of people who’ve had considerable influence upon the organization. I felt at least I may get a good look over.

It took me the better part of the day to fill out the application, as there were many questions asked, some requiring detailed responses. Never fun, particularly when you don’t know beforehand if this kind of sweat will have any payoff—a point soon proven—as not even 30 minutes later, I get this generic email response that says:

“After careful consideration of your application we have decided to continue to pursue other candidates for [this] job opening. However we do thank you for your interest… I have attached our current job list for your convenience. Please let me know if any of these other openings are of interest to you.”

I was like, Man! What the?! I immediately started assuming all sorts of things:

Some newly sprung college kid who doesn’t have eyes to see the good stuff I put on there!…

They must not have read it…

It was a setup. They already knew who they were going to hire and the posting is just a formality…

Did I not use the right keywords?…

It might have been any of these things. Or it might have been none of them. Maybe they really did take a look and—nope—I just didn’t have what they were looking for. I guess my pride took a hit because I really saw better chances for myself in getting an interview here.

But then how do you ever know? And that’s my point—or at least what lies underneath the question, which is that HR departments have their own language and the seekers who read job postings are often left to guess what it is they need to talk about to get due consideration. How they read and respond to these postings is often way different than the way HR folks read their answers while blowing through their faceless names. And to a degree, this is intentional, as those who don’t know the required lingo unwittingly help HR in the elimination process.

Like an Air Force pilot buddy of mine says, What’s the gouge?—meaning “What’s the inside scoop needed to pass this test?”

In John Locke’s case, the gouge was that he’d just been vetted by the owner of the company, Hugo Reyes, who told him to have the meeting with HR in order to find the position he wanted.

Would that we were all so lucky… Well here’s to hoping you find the gouge the next time you’re unsure of your odds of success—whether that’s to have the fortune of knowing the right people, or to be able to play the game enough to tell some surly bloke what he wants to hear.

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Finally. This week my life can begin again.

I’m only joking. (Almost.)

This week begins the final season to ABC’s amazing six-year run of Lost, one of the most popular shows in recent memory. As with several million faithful fans around the world (shy a few million former regulars who gave up following from impatience with the show’s seemingly never-ending plot twists and drawn-out character studies), I’ve anxiously been awaiting this moment since last season’s cliffhanger finale in May, where we were finally introduced to the mysterious Jacob–only to see him apparently killed off by Ben Linus, at the behest of John Locke–who, as it turns out–isn’t really John Locke anymore.

Okay, sorry to barrage you with details. Lost is one of the shows you either love to follow or not at all. There’s really no in-between as it is a true serial, renowned for so many story lines and connecting links in a dense story structure that if you miss an episode or two, you’re pretty lost yourself. Even as a follower, there’s so much stuff going on that I forget half of it. I was trying to remember the other night, for instance, why did the cast get split up into two story lines taking place thirty years apart? In truth, a revisit of this series from start to finish may be in order when this season finally wraps, where as with any good whodunit mystery, so many of the things I thought I knew were taking place were not what I thought them to be at the time.

Anyway, my point isn’t to talk about this show. It’s more about the anticipation of waiting for something that you are eager to experience. While I admit the plot got a little tedious at points–particularly in season 4–Lost has nevertheless been a source of great enjoyment for me. Escapism at its best.

Also, it’s about finding refuge in something to help take your mind off the rest of your life.

Like with a lot of people, the last two years have been very challenging ones for me. There have been times that things were such that–well, let’s just say there were times that watching Lost became the highlight of my week, giving me something to look forward to in an otherwise dismal routine.

Maybe that sounds pathetic, but what about you? Can’t you relate? The point isn’t whether it’s right or wrong, but the fact that we do this. Maybe this isn’t something to truly celebrate, but there could be far worse things. I’m glad to know at least that I’m part of a tribe some 15 million strong or so. This is after all the one show that brought me back to watching prime-time drama.

So come Tuesday night, I gladly escape again back to the Island (or wherever our Oceanic Flight 815 friends happen to be now).

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