Film

don't you dare be normal

 

We live in a curious time.

We may be the first civilization, that has for the most part mastered and educated its citizens in the art of reading and writing.  We should also admit however, that as a modern and a progressive global civilization, we should not be too quick to pat ourselves on the back for our efforts.  We may be darn good communicators, but we seem to miss the thesis of being alive.

It seems that our ‘free’, but somewhat expensive education system, has done such a great job nurturing us, that we seem to have no glimmer of understanding who we are, and so we conform our lives to what we think society wants us to be. 

We know our roles and we live them out. 

We understand obedience, as we raise our hands to ask permission to pee, watching our manners and minding our business.  Somewhere during our turbulent adolescence, we came to the somewhat unnatural conclusion that it was far too difficult to swim against the current.  We regrettably decided to follow our peers and retreat with the comfortable flowing waters.  

Today we do what we are told.

No one asks us anymore who we want to be when we grow up.  We are grown up.

We were once asked, long ago, to decide for ourselves as to what we wanted to do with our lives. 

We were asked to make a decision, hastily, at a time when we were very unsure of ourselves, and equally ignorant of all our options.  We didn’t know enough.  We haven’t lived enough.  Yet, we are expected to live with our direction.  We chose our given professions.  We groomed ourselves into who we are today.  We are simply asked to be content with our lot in life.

We tell ourselves that we have to remain obedient to our choices.  This is what it means to be normal.  It is after, all we have ever known.  It’s all we know we can do. 

But why is doing more important than being?

Who says that you can’t change your damn mind?  Why can’t we change who we are?  Why can’t we do this today or tomorrow?

Technology changes.  Society changes.  Progress engulfs us.

Everything is in constant and obeys the laws of perpetual motion.  So why do we remain stagnant?  Why are our lives eternally bound to a monotonous existence?

There is a beautiful film that came out of Africa, which is probably why you haven’t heard of it or seen it, and you perhaps never will.  After all, how could you, when it is ignorant to assume an entire world can fit into one Foreign Film category.

The First Grader

The film is a mystifying story about an old man, who was denied his chance to learn to read and write, because the British Colonial power, that controlled his country for years, denied him this unnecessary privilege. 

He didn’t have the right skin colour. 

He finds himself now, living in a free and independent Kenya, where education is offered to everyone, yet as he enters a kindergarten class for the first time, the people of his country believe that he is outlandish, and doesn’t belong there.

He is not of the right age.

Have you ever noticed that art classes are just an after-thought in most of ours schools, and in most of our minds?  Yes, there are a few exceptions.  A few scattered, designated art schools, do cultivate new and emerging artists, but that is precisely what is wrong our culture.  Art has been relegated to the passing time of a recess.  It has been told to wait outside. 

We decided, or it was decided for us, that art serves no real purpose and has no lasting importance to our lives.  Art has no value, except in as much as it entertains and bridges those awkward moments of silence we so desperately try to avoid.

You and I have been told, repeatedly and relentlessly, to the point of exhaustion, that we need to be normal, because it is far too dangerous to fly too close to the sun.

We have built a god of science, modernity, and progress. 

Charlie Chaplin saw this in his film Modern Times.  We praised his genius at the time, but never listened.

Every day, we wake up with the often unconscious intention to simply blend in and accomplish nothing out of the ordinary. 

Don’t fuck up.  Don’t make a ruckus.  Shut up.  Keep your eyes down. 

We love living life in the middle of a crowd, unseen. We don’t want to lead.  It is so comfortable on the inside.  It is so cold and uncertain to be an outlier. 

We are nestled in the middle along with everyone else.  We don’t want to be noticed.  We don’t want to stand out and be different.  We wish to be left alone.  We just want to earn our daily bread, kick up our feet, and wait for our turn to fly to our next vacation.

Are we happy?

Only you can answer that.  I’ve searched my own soul for the answer.

We give our children standardized tests to prove that they are literate, and normal.  They are ready to resume their life of mediocrity.

Students climb their way to the precipice of the honour roll.  They earn their high school diploma, for what?  To become part of a bell curve at some higher institution of learning?

How quickly have we let go of our dreams, and settled in for the menial tasks of a good job?  We satisfy our sexual urges.  Fawn over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  We chase after them like a fox who pounces on a rabbit.  But at what cost?

When we do things, does that bring us more happiness than being?

Right.  There are no standardized tests for just being.

Remember when you were young and you would listen to your favourite music because it was beautiful, and precisely because there was nothing you had to do with it, except to listen?  Remember drawing pictures as a child for no particular reason, simply because you wanted to bring colour to a paper and express something?

Where is that child that we were so fond of?

Do we ever remember the games we were fond of creating and how often we relied on our imagination.  We would make things come alive out of nothing. There was no tangible expectations.  There were no norms to follow.

We were never meant to be normal.  So what happened to us?

Why did we willingly give up our innocence and our child-like wonder in exchange for comfort and sameness?

What has it gotten us?

Being normal is a chronic illness.

Being normal is a treadmill.  The belt, winds and winds our life, for hours and hours, giving us the illusion and perspiration of imagined progress.  But in the end, it leads us nowhere. 

Why don’t go outside?  Why don’t we engage our universe?

It’s too cold.  Too wet.  Too unpredictable.  It’s not normal. 

If you go outside, you might just end up being somewhere. 

Somewhere, where there is nothing to do, except to live, be happy.  A place where you will not encounter many fellow travellers.

A place to be abnormal.

 


wrong place, wrong time

 

Sometimes you make a commitment to do something you love and you go about executing your detailed plan perfectly.  You go over every minute detail, seen or unseen.  After much time you become very confident and prepared.  Over-prepared even. 

When you arrive, nothing is at it should be.  You are shell shocked.

Up is down.  Left is right.  Big is small.  Small is orange. 

You have a sudden impulse to run back.  To run to safety.  You want to keep moving.  Move anywhere.  Move everywhere.

You want to get away from the uncertainty and futility of it all, wondering inside how you could have been so wrong?  Why didn’t you see this?

Thankfully you are older now and questionably wiser.  You understand the value of commitment, reliability, and integrity.  You somehow misunderstood the opportunity.  You are frazzled, but you stay still in the midst of a storm, and then something happens.

A thought.  A little beam of light guiding you to a place of safety.

Perhaps where you are is the wrong place.  Perhaps it is even the wrong time.  But you are always you.  You are always where you should be.

You never change.  Your dreams remain.  Your passion burns.  Your mission challenges.  They all remain your unwavering allies.

Perhaps you begin to question God or the spirit of the Universe, or perhaps you have no muse, and rock yourself to sleep every night, comforted by nothing.

Why did this happen to me?  What is the purpose?

The little beam of light offers no answer, it is mute and only points to a new direction.

Stand still.  Do what you are there to do.  Do it well.  When you are finished, go home.  Crawl into bed.  Lick your wounds and begin anew tomorrow.

In time, your mind will return to this exact moment.  Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, or perhaps a century from now.  Who knows.  When that day comes and you look back and consider where you reluctantly strayed, it will become abundantly clear why you were there and that it made all the difference.

Never quit.  Always see things to the end.

Trust in the natural order of things.  Trust yourself.

Have faith in a new tomorrow.

 


dear mr. keating

 

Dear Mr. Keating,

You don’t know me but ever since 1989 I desperately wanted a seat in your English class at the Welton Academy.  I know you were let go, and you no longer work there, but I still want that chance to be there.  I want to take risks and live life to the fullest.  I want to walk around the courtyard looking foolish but free, or perhaps have a chance to exercise my right not to walk at all.  (The little pun is intended to please you).

I want to rip out the words of Mr. Prichard from the assigned textbook, and stand upon my desk to see the world as it is, perhaps for the very first time. 

You’ve made a deep impression on my soul over the years.  One that refuses to fade.  An impression that has molded me into the person I am.

You are as real to me as the man who gave you life.  The two of you are inseparable and this is why I hope these few words find you well.  I hope you may reach and share my thoughts with your other self and tell him that we miss him dearly.

Carpe Diem

Seize the Day.

The man you are certainly did.

Please give my warmest regard to your friend Robin Williams.

We have never met, but strangely, I somehow feel I knew him.

I didn’t know that side of him that was constantly and relentlessly pursued by demons.  I had no real experience of the courage he must have had to fight those dark forces and offer his undying resistance. 

To the world, he was funny, at times outrageous, but always benevolently generous.  To me, he will always be you.

I hope you miss him too, Mr. Keating.  He left a void that is hard to fill.

I don’t know many actors who would take the time to share some hearty laughter with a director as he descends into the depths of hell.  Who else would have had the grace to drop everything they were doing and fly away, to be by the bedside of a dying fan.

He stood by Superman! 

He stood by many.

He made millions laugh.  He made millions cry.  He made this young man realize that it is a divine calling to leave your mark and to seize every moment.

We really miss him.

I wish there were no demons.  I wish we had more time.  I wish we could experience his new film and he could make us laugh all over again.  I wish we could continue life as it was.

In the final analysis, he gave us much.  He seized his day. 

He gave us you, Mr. Keating.

And the world is a far more beautiful place.

 

Sincerely,

A Prospect of the Dead Poets Society

 


my mid-life crisis

 

I think it's time to speak about my mid-life crisis.

Let me first clarify before you jump to the wrong conclusions that I have not lost my mind.

I have not lost my identity, nor have I lost my self confidence.  My mind is not overwhelmed with melancholic thoughts, and I am not anxious or filled with deep regret.  I don't want to get younger, or grow my hair.  I have not purchased a new shiny sports car, nor do I have any desire for a sordid love affair.

I am happily married and immensely grateful for my beautiful family.  I can also confidently say that I am content with my profession. 

Our family debt is slowly getting smaller.  My health is good.  These are the prime years of my life, and in just twelve more years, I get to retire, and French kiss my pension with open arms. 

All that is left, it seems, is to preorder a good pair of dentures, invest in a modest rental property in sunny Florida, buy a mahogany rocking chair, and pick a good stain for the pine box I'll be buried in.  Maybe a nice Hawaiian shirt wouldn't hurt either.

I have everything I think I need, and yet I find myself at the crossroads of my life, and in a state of crisis.

I've been here before, but not quite like this.  

Not all crossroads are wrought with pain and agony.  Quite the opposite. 

There is a relentless little voice inside my head and it speaks in an inaudible whisper.  I hear it with my soul and it calls me to greatness.  It calls me to heights I never dreamed possible.  To be honest, I want to ignore this little voice because it entices me to the edge of the Abyss.  An Abyss that is dark and cold.  Ready to collapse upon itself at any moment.  When I think of the artists I admire, I see people who were predestined and somehow chosen for their mission.  I don't feel chosen.  I don't feel predestined.

Artists are human caricatures.  They are people who seem so distant and far away.  They seem to live scripted lives.  They are gods and goddesses among us.  Individuals who start revolutions,  brand movements, and destroy to make new.  Their lives are those of legend, the anointed ones, the chosen people.  

There is nothing about me that seems remotely chosen, yet here I sit and wonder who I am not to believe and try? 

That is my crisis.  

I am living inside a moment that is without a doubt calling me to greatness.  I feel pushed and compelled to take swift and decisive action.  I can no longer stand by and wait.  

Part of me is very numb with fear.  Not the fear of failure, but the fear of success.  If I am right, then I have misread the meaning of my life, or perhaps wasn't quite ready to see it before.  I fear that over time, perhaps today or maybe tomorrow, I will have to say goodbye to some of my friends and acquaintances, or rather, they will secretly say goodby to me.  I am undergoing a Kafkaesque metamorphosis and facing my trial.  I am Joseph K.  It feels like I have awakened in the Tower and Babel and I no longer speak the same language.  I think and feel estranged and distant. 

I have decided not to be afraid of the Abyss and to walk with fear and trembling, down a road I do not know or see.  I'm not sure if I am more afraid of the unknown path, or making the return.  If I don't succeed, I will have to crawl back into my old stretched skin, and I'm afraid to imagine how dark and empty it will feel.  Heraclitus was right.  We cannot step into the same river twice, because it is not the same river, and I am not the same man. 

Life perpetually moves forward.  No exceptions.  It is only our mind that is stubborn and braces itself to live in the past.

The word crisis has several meanings. 

It is possessed by the three weird sisters: chaos, anxiety, and uncertainty.  This is why the moment of crisis never feels right.  How can it?  There is nowhere to run.  There is nowhere to hide.  No safety nets.  No underground bunker.  Panic sets in and fear is never far behind, yet despite all of our natural instincts, the only way through, is to stand still, motionless, and watch the storm pass us by.  It always passes by.  Only those that go through the storm are greeted by the new sun.  Only those who are courageous to leap, experience weightlessness, and emerge transformed.

There is a fourth often forgotten sister.  The one we never speak of or ever write about.  She, like Cinderella, is made to sweep our house and be enslaved to others.  Her name is Catharsis and she embodies an opportunity and a chance for growth and change.  

Catharsis is the process of releasing.  A point of purity.  A moment of cleansing.

No, I have not joined a cult.  I'm not a big fan of the secret whispers, the midnight meetings or the sweaty handshakes.  I also think I didn't follow the application process correctly.  If there is one thing I know about cults, it's that they are efficient.  The office was closed, so I might have to wait 'til Monday.  They just hate it when you call them outside of regular business hours.

What does this all mean you ask?  

I don't know.

These are the only words swirling around in my brain and it is all I have in order to try to make sense of where I am and where I want to go.

I have been a photographer for almost ten years, but never took it seriously.  I was lucky to have inherited that passion from my father.  I have never written with meaning and purpose either, at least not until I started these little musings of mine.  I believe I also inherited my love of writing from my father.  

My mother on the other hand game me my soul; the heart to love the broken and forsaken.  I have never met a more beautiful and kindhearted woman in my life.  I had the privilege of meeting one once, and so I married her.

Two men stared out their prison bars.  One saw stars, the other saw mud.

I am standing in a pool of mud, still behind bars, but what is different about me today is that I can see the stars.  

They are beautiful.  They are majestic and they cannot be counted.  

It is not only the sun that happens to shine bright.  She has a seemingly infinite number of brothers and sisters.  Our ancestors spent their life contemplating and rejoicing over those little points of light.  So far away; yet so real and visible.  We don't look at the stars anymore, we only watch them on Oscars night or the Grammys, on our precious little glowing screens.  

I plan to continue writing.  I plan on creating breathtaking photographs.

There is no more dreaming.  No more standing still.

It is time to do the work.

 


nude photography: art or porn?

 

 

I’m sorry to disappoint you.  There will be no visuals.

It seems that the photography as an art form is in the middle of a deep stagnation.  A crisis of sorts, because unlike sculpture, or the finesse of applying oil or pastels to canvas, the art of photography has become uncontrollably fast, inexpensive, and a disposable after thought.  It seems that all it takes anymore, is one magical box.  A cheap one, or an expensive one.  It doesn’t matter, as long as it comes with that shutter thingy, and a few free Photoshop pre-sets.  Congratulations, you’re on your way to becoming a fine arts photographer.

I am melancholy, because photography today lacks tenacity.  It’s sad, because as an artistic community, we don’t create enough purposeful and meaningful art.  We often fail to share it, or maybe we don’t and it just gets lost somewhere; somewhere deep inside the noise and static.  In either case, there isn’t enough beauty in our world.  Not enough that breaks through to make an impact, anyhow.

Analog is out. 

Digital is in.

I don’t think many of us appreciate how relatively young the art of photography truly is.  It is somewhat strange therefor to reflect and realize that we are only a century or so removed from the first camera, the first print, the first act of beauty in a 35mm canvas of space.

At the beginning, in its infancy, photography was a beautifully rare gift.  It was rare because it took special effort to become its master.  Millions of people were enamoured with this new medium and open to the possibilities it promised.  One of its many expressions were the cabinet cards. 

There are not many around anymore, or perhaps they are getting musty in a box somewhere. 

The cabinet cards were special.  They contained a 4x6 photograph, that was hand glued, and beautifully illustrated.  They were proudly displayed in every cabinet that could hold them.  They were the center of conversation and an oracle of people’s memories.  They were marveled at by visitors and strangers alike.  They connected us.  They enthralled us.  They were a work of art.

At the turn of this century, we diverged on a different path.  We have already taken an incalculable number of photographs and it’s not surprising since every living human has their own camera in thier pocket.  Some of the ravenous gluttons among us even have two.

We are overwhelmed.  We don’t know what to do with ourselves or how to stop.  We take pictures of everything and anything but for what purpose? 

Storage. 

We keep everything in some sort of virtually mobile and un-inventoried heap of crapulous storage.  We’ll find a purpose later, we tell ourselves, and if not, our grandchildren will know what to do with our bathroom selfie, or long forgotten steak sandwich.

Since we pollute everywhere else, it seems fitting that we share our images habitually, without much thought or purpose.  We jam them into our social media feeds with tremendous haste and they serve us well enough.  All these photos seem a poor substitute for words and thoughts.  We seem to be living the Orwellian tragedy.  We are too complacent and refuse to spend any valuable time in selecting our words, and express ourselves through vague sentiments and meaningless chatter.  No one listens anyway.

I am saddened but disobediently hopeful.  I am hopeful because in the end Art will triumph. 

I continue to be inspired by so many great writers and talented photographers that today I renew my wish to join the movement.  I desire to lead a tribe of my own.

I want art to return. 

I want beauty to triumph. 

I don’t want porn do itch and burn deep within our soul.

I have no way to verify this, and I have forgotten who made this observation, but it seems that pornography has saved or at least was instrumental in the expansion and explosion of the internet.

Pornography built the steel rails, we ride upon it.  I should have said journey.  It would have been less cheeky.

Porn is a very prickly subject, and for some time now, a very uncomfortable one for many. Nonetheless, I for one am foolish enough to believe that it is.  If we don’t, one day we’ll lose all our ability to tell the difference between art, and the titillating, seductive vehicle of self-pleasure.

I think the art of nude photography is subtle.  It is very intelligent.  I believe it is best grasped through three distinct dimensions.

Rarity. 

Dignity. 

Experience. 

First - Rarity.

Beautiful and thought provoking photographs of the human form are perceptibly rare.  You won’t find them too easily in a google search, you’ll probably run into a few of the others. They are not easily catalogued or contained in any single book or volume of books at the library or on Amazon.  It is not that easy to discover the talented pool of names that served as studies or the artists who took a leap, walked outside societal norms, and mirrored something we are all very scared to behold. 

Are we not afraid? 

Just see what happens when a nipple makes an appearance at a major television event.  Observe the chaos.  Take note of the incessant internet chatter, as though human nipples were capable and responsible for bringing down entire civilizations.

Artistic nudes are rare. 

They are buried underneath an avalanche of crotch shots, boobbie thrusts, and immaterial humping orgies.  The titles on the other hand are brimming with literary genius.

I propose that the most meaningful nude photographs will never be seen.  They are not meant for our eyes.  Like the rare cabinet cards of old, the human body, on occasion, is captured freely and given as a offering to the lover.  The chosen photographer not only play the important role as architect but also the role of a gate keeper.  What passes between lovers is best left silent. 

Art doesn’t need a large audience to impact the world.  It is content to be held by just one mind.

Second - Dignity

There is a certain quiet dignity in all artistic nudes.  Their beauty is not held captive by empty eroticism.  Their beauty is a divine reflection of a higher form. 

Nude photographs are erotic by nature, there is no denying that, but through art, the eroticism doesn’t devour and consume itself.  It transcends itself and shares something universal about the human condition.

The artistic poses can be empowering, vulnerable, seductive, inviting, soulful, and unifying. 

They do not humiliate, abuse, manipulate, exploit, or monetize.

The early photography magazines were full of nudes. 

The 20’s and 30’s openly embraced and celebrated the naked body.  We were  back again in the garden of Eden, as though nothing ever changed.  Then it did.

Totalitarianism.  Social Nationalism.  Puritanism.  Religious Zealotry.  Something.  Something changed.

The day was lost.  Art was bound and gagged by commerce. 

We have not swung back yet but it would be a shame if we didn’t try.  If we don’t, our insatiable dignity as artists this generation will be forgotten, and undiscovered.  All effort will be submerged beneath the ashes of the Roman Empire, and other artistic epochs.

Third – Experience

The mindset and experience of the beholder seems to be the most important dimension. 

We seem very divided and are pulled apart by two opposing forces. 

We either feel that we are free, unconditionally, and without limit.  And we heap the word art on anything that suits our purpose, or we are frozen in fear, struck by some false moral obligation.  An empty compulsion to wrestle the world into submission.  To fit the ocean, into our own little rusty jar, simply because we are afraid to be consumed by its vastness.

It’s your mindset. 

It’s your experience and ignorance.

You see dirty things because you want to see dirty things.  You see the joy of curves and shadows wrap themselves around the body of a beautiful woman, because you want to see them.

All words have no meaning.  They are bricks of concrete.  They are not a home.

Words are empty vessels that are made up of letters that signify nothing.  Nothing, until someone comes along and decides to empower them with meaning.  It is our experience that guides our perception.  Our lives dictate what we see and don’t see.  Our past failures incite us to be blind.

In the final analysis, none of what I have written here today really matters.  As I reread this, I have a compelling urge just to erase it all and write something about the coming of spring.  This is full of grammatical errors, erroneous philosophical suppositions, and after all, who writes a reflection about porn?

I will share my thoughts anyway.  I will live with the fear and trembling.  I’ll let you decide what sense, if any to make of this.

My intent was simple.  I desired to start a conversation.

I love art and the vulnerable curves, immersed in shadows.

I believe in the healing beauty of the human body.

I think it’s time to swing the pendulum back.