Sunday, December 25, 2005

Joshua Kreig's Seventh Annual Christmas Message

The Nature of Reality

Bill and Melinda Gates and U2 troubadour Bono were named Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year. Apparently on the short-list was Mother Nature. While what the Gates duo and Bono are doing for Africa is a very commendable enterprise alas the “person” with the greatest impact on our lives last year was Mother Nature. In Toronto, ever so far from the real action, all summer I heard people complaining about the weather. Oh how hot it was. Record heat and smog. Bring it on says I. Maybe not the smog.

I discovered that the reason Canada is such a peaceful country is we as citizens spend so much time talking about the weather and generally agreeing how crappy it is we have no time for major disagreements leading to disputes and violence. Maybe we need to send a team of expert meteorologists to Quebec. The weather can distract.

But by the by as it can distract it can draw our attention to the true starkness of our reality. All of human history can be seen as a species trying to come to terms with its environment. Human kind went from being the victims of nature to harnessing it and dominating it. Every now and then we fool ourselves into believing we are on top. A tsunami, a couple of hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, to name a few, come along to remind us that we are only suppose to have dominion over all the critters and growing things on the earth. The earth itself is the true master of the human animal. Nature has dominion over us.

E.B. White is my favourite essayist and any writer hoping to elevate the ordinary of life to the extraordinary should read him. He once wrote, “I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.”

Life expectancy in Canada is 76 years for men and 83 years for women. Regardless of which version of “how long ago or how life got here” you believe, our turn on the ride of life is rather short in the totality of human history and less significant in the planets history. Nature was here first. People second. If history is an indicator of the future then it stands to reason that nature will outlive people. She has the longevity gene stacked in her favour.

I think there is a movement for us to start living a more integrated existence with our planet. This movement is small and has great obstacles to overcome so it needs all our help. But if we want to be able to focus on the building of relationships with others we have to realise that our first relationship is with the planet. Without it there is nothing. Struggling with it is mere survival.

The other big nature I have come to understand a bit more this year is human. Though I no longer believe in organized religion I feel more and more spiritual all the time. And I have realised that my writing is how I express my spirituality. I think spirituality is the quest to find out what it is we all share. We hope that there is someone we can connect with and maybe even more important influence. I think we all want to know we matter and in some way affect the lives of those around us and maybe across a world.

I am filled with awe at the idea and certainty that there are many students from all over the world: Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Korea, Chile, Columbia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Iran, Argentina, Russia, Spain, Germany, Italy, Taiwan, China, Portugal, Serbia and Poland who feel their lives are a little better for knowing me and I was more than a teacher of English to them. The humbling beauty of it is, I learned more from them than they did from me.

I am a student of human nature. It is my hobby and passion and this past two years it has been my vocation. I have said so many times this year, “I have learned more about the world working at Berlitz than I have from any travelling I have done.”

Picture it. On vacation everything is a postcard. Snap, Sydney Opera House in the backdrop. Snapping the Petronis Towers. Boating down a river in Bangkok. Standing on a beach in Phuket. Cows in Chicago. Everything is a postcard. Memories of movement captured in something static. We look and touch but how often do we really feel and understand the places we are in.

Over the past two years the world has come to me. I have asked a lot of questions. I asked a few German students, “How do Germans today perceive their 20th Century history?” I asked an Iranian student if it was difficult to be living a very open western lifestyle compared to her lifestyle in Iran. I asked Brazilian students why there seems to be two Brazils – a black poor one and a rich white one. Especially after a student with African roots did not want the other Brazilians to know he was also from Brazil. I asked Mexicans what it was like to live through the bank crash of 1995. I asked Koreans about the last year of high school that creates the Korean brain factory. I learned why it appears both Japanese and Germans are obsessed with time but for very different reasons. I learned why Chileans are very security minded after living through years of dictatorship. And this is a mere smidgeon of the experience.

I have met and taught and learned from people as diverse as a VP of a joint venture mining company between the governments of Russia and Mongolia and a banking executive who championed a new corporate governance law in Mexico. No easy feat when people have pictures of their children mailed to them. I have seen first hand a young Japanese woman question everything her culture has taught her she should be. I have seen an Iranian woman, out of family love and honour, make one of the hardest decisions she could make.

What I have found is there is indeed a fundamental human nature that we all possess regardless of position or place. The need to know what our lives are. We are searching for meaning. So many times I heard from students, “This is the first time I have had a chance to slow my life down and think about it.” For most it has been a great process and for some a difficult one. I am honoured that they have shared a little of their journey with me.

I think both Mother Nature and Human Nature came together for me this year in two places. The first is don Miguel Ruiz and the second is my sister Judith.

I discovered a book called, THE FOUR AGREEMENTS. The book is rooted in the toltec native spirituality of Mexico. The toltecs knew that they could not separate themselves from nature. They believed they were a part of a world coming to know itself. We are the great dreaming. The simplicity of wisdom is easy to see in the agreements.

(from the cover)

“Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

For me the middle two were the first I had to work on and I am getting pretty good at them. Though far from perfect. The first one and last one are the challenges I next face. The four are each so easy to write and say but so hard to live. The book has helped me see the connections between myself and the world. I am beginning to learn my role in all that as well.

My sister has been a big reminder of how fragile human nature can be. On Tuesday, December 20th she was rushed to hospital emergency with the same stoke-like symptoms she had 18 months ago. Though as with that occurrence she will make a full physical recovery it is very difficult on her physical body and even more so on her emotional body.

This becomes a great source of pain as she has reached many of the goals that were before her that I mentioned last year. 2005 has been a remarkable year for her. But her body reminds us that it is all very fragile yet requiring great strength.

I have found these last few years that whenever there is a nice piece of theory that life wishes to teach me it has a tendency to reinforce it with a nice up close and personal experience. The fragility of the planet witnessed on CNN comes home when a loved one is threatened with illness.

Now mother nature does not have to do that but alas she was never meant to be kind. That is something we humans are trying to force upon her. But the lesson she is trying to teach us is that we are all connected and share a common human experience. At the core of that human experience is the reality that we are physical beings that must acknowledge that without respect for our planet and our physical selves we cannot have any spiritual connections.

May the holidays find you living in peace with your world and those in it. Merry Christmas.



(December 24, 2005)

Posts of Christmas Past

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hung Up On, Art Shows, Dogs House (SM)

Hung Up On…

Hung up on Madonna is what the world will be for the next little spell. Yes the dance floors of the world are about to fall prey to major Madge magic. She's created the perfect dance song.

The single is the perfect dance song.

I was listening to it with a fellow writer friend and he mentioned something interesting I had not noticed. The way the song starts off is identical to the experience of walking into a dance club. As I listened I heard it. When you are outside the club all you hear is the bass. Then as you enter it is bass and some midrange noises and as you get close you hear more and then when you walk into the room you get this rush of music. Damn clever producing I say.

That rush immediately carried me off somewhere at every circuit event these bones have gyrated at for many an hour. Interesting structure also because regardless of what type of music you like that would be a shared experience entering any club.

This song is so happy it makes you move. There will be stampedes to the dance floors ladies. Saddle up! I think even a bad dancer will be able to fake a move or two to this sucker. It gets in your blood and starts giggling and grooving.

I’ve heard one remix, Tracy Young’s. Can we say techno/trance! YAY! But it got lots of percussion and all the vocals to keep the house queens happy. Whereas the single gives you happy boogie woogie shoes Young’s version says, “Ummmm excuse me, your ass on the dance floor now!” It is a great first remix with very broad appeal. If this was the single we would still be very impressed.

Fuck! I sound like a fag gushing over Madonna!! Someone shoot me. Please.

Art Shows…

Art shows us we are the highest evolved species on the planet. Everything else we do in life is part of a structure that is aimed at keeping ourselves alive and propagating our species. Its all systems with one aim – stay alive. And every other living creature on the planet is doing the same thing. Only the structures and systems maybe at various stages of complexity. We humans think we are the most complex things on the planet. But any scientist would agree there are a lot more things outside us we do not understand then there are inside us. So that makes us less complex if we employ a little sloppy logic.

But it is in art where we step outside every other species. We think it is our ability to know or our (self)consciousness that defines us as human but I think it is our ability to produce art that shows us we are human. Highbrow or lowbrow is irrelevant. From the most salacious joke to the piercing aria all is art. Interesting that some of our most abundant forms of art come from a need to entertain ourselves. But it is creativity that says this species is different than the rest.

Dogs House…

Dogs house a curiosity for me from which I feel I may finally have found a cure. See I’ve thought about getting a dog. A Weimaraner I was thinking. They are suppose to be standoffish and moody. But then I was thinking of having to pick up its poop. But then a dog owner told me that once you get attached to the beast you’d take a bullet for it. But then I was thinking that I would have to make arrangements anytime I wanted to do anything outside its schedule. Then I was thinking it would be like having a two year old that never grows up and leaves home. But then I was thinking that I could overcome all those drawbacks and get myself a dog until I finally thought!! We eat animals we don’t live with them.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Real Batman Has Finally Shown Up

I've been waiting since 1989 for this movie. All four movies are now null and void. Sure Burton has got style and has one of the best imaginations in la la land. Now for the BUT. He works strongest on his own material. He should have said NO to Batman. If Batman Begins came first followed by Burton’s (good but not great) Batman no debates would be happening. Batman Begins is brilliant from open to close. It is the best comic book movie to date.

I have collected Batman comics and Batman Begins is a collectors movie with enough smarts and style to make the average Joe and Jane enjoy it. But this is the Batman movie we have been waiting for.

Keaton had fake hair and what was that attempt at a scowl when it looked more like Ben Stiller’s pouting pursed mouth in the barely viewable Zoolander. (Though on MJ it is kinda sorta funny.) Val was too pretty. Clooney? Nuff said. But we have to really blame Mr Schumacher for all that.

Though this movie is filled with A-List stars they are not superstars. They are actors playing characters; you believe they are who they are playing. I will not waste any of my life recounting the parade of superstars from Jack to Ahhnuld who were one after another a big distraction from the main character. In all other Batman movies Bruce Wayne/Batman was a supporting character to these superstars chewing the comic scenery. The strength of this movie is it is a Bruce Wayne/Batman movie and the villains are second. That is what we fans wanted all along.

All the actors are superb. And hey its Morgan Freeman. The man finds the right note and plays a small support with the perfect pitch of humour. (With a U, I'm Canadian.) It was nice to see Gary Oldman in a movie where his teeth marks are not over all the sets. He was a man trying to hang on to his idealism in a world where none was to be found. Michael Caine captured the dry wit of Alfred that is in the books. He is the man who roots Bruce in reality with love, devotion, and a kick-ass sarcasm. Cillain is creepily wonderful. Neeson is a splendid mentor/villain.

I will let the filmmakers away with not doing the Batman's eyes the way they are in the comic books. At least they pulled the mask in close to the eyes so the silly black makeup around the eyes is not as much of a sore thumb as previously. (Where does he find the time to put that on and take it off?)

Though none of the things in this movie could happen for real they place enough of it in respectable fuzzy science for us to suspend our disbelief. Not once could I do that in the other films.

Bob Kane did not create Batman to be “cartoony”. He is suppose to scare the bejeebus out of you. And in this movie he does. I was concerned that the scarecrow would be a weak villain but the hallucinogen angle allowed for effects that are driving the story and not a gimmick. It gave Batman Begins a nightmare quality. This movie is for adults. Leave the kiddies home.

Nolan’s direction was well done. Let's face it, M. Night made a brilliant movie with The Sixth Sense, Nolan made a brilliant Memento. I think it is impossibly naive to constantly judge new work by what happened in the past. There will not be another The Sixth Sense nor another Memento. But Batman Begins judged as a self-contained entity works on many levels. I really cared about THIS Batman.

The reason Batman works is because unlike all the other Superheroes he has no super powers. He is a man. And deep down we all feel that with the right training, motivation, and bank account we could become that man. He is a human being doing super human things. This movie works because we meet the human being and empathise with him. Batman does not show up until the second act. But we are happy to be watching Bruce Wayne slowly become him.

Brilliant, bloody brilliant!

5 Bats out of 5.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Al-Gayda" she said!

Margaret Cho - The Assassin Tour

From the top I have to say, though I was not disappointed, I found the Assassin not as funny as "I'm The One That I want"

ITOTIW has a stronger emotional and personal core. The comedy springs forth from being able to laugh at her own life tragedies. It is the pathos that gave ITOTIW an innate knowledge and intelligence about its subject matter that made the delivery seem as if it came from her core.

The only core to this show is being pissed off. See you hear people saying that many Americans are Bush haters. I think they are just pissed-off.

I think they would not care if he was still governor. They are just ticked-off with him and the rest of the Americans who voted for him. Other than that they would probably say he is a good ole boy. See that is what the state of Texas is for - a way to keep most of the wingnuts in one place. They just want the biggest wingnut out of Washington and back on the ranch out of harms way. History will not be kind to W. And, I have a strong feeling his post presidential life will be froth with difficulties.

This makes for great comedy/drama and can be milked for some genuine laughter and Margaret Cho did have some brilliant moments. But not a complete set of them because the material does not have an emotional personal core. Being pissed-off at a lunatic with no personality understandably has no emotional core.

Stemming from the pissed-off-ness was some great Bush bashing and rich gay political humour. At times biting and at times vulgar and always funny. Yet it did not have a depth of brains but variations on themes already out in the foray. Don’t get me wrong it was very smart in places and “I have a dick tooth.” was very clever. She pulled in many pop cultural references. In the cat stevens bit she sings “I’m being followed by an air marshall, air marshall.” I would bet few under 30 recognized the tune of “Moon Shadow”. Most over 30 caught it and appreciated it. And she was pretty vicious to Hollywood starlets and bjork. Her face was uncanny singing bjork.

Though I appreciated the big screen to get a close-up look at all the facial expressions my seat was close enough that I could get all that without the screen. At times I found myself looking more at the screen or at the least it was distracting me. Though I am sure the balcony greatly appreciated it.

One thing I did notice is this show contains a lot more self-referential queer or lesbian remarks. I have not seen Notorious C.H.O. or CHO Revolution so I don't know if this is new or a progression. But she did seem more “OUT” here than in ITOTIW. There was many a splattering of angry queer politics in there. AL-GAYDA I LOVE IT!!

Maybe the more I let the show run through my head I am convincing myself I liked it a lot more than I said. There were many funny moments and a few brilliant one-liners. But yet that core problem is still pestering me. I think ITOTIW had a passion that could only come from that material. It was her at her most vulnerable and raw yet hungry and wickedly funny at the same time. Most other things after that, by comparison can only sound like comedic monologue.

Oh I did indeed laugh and the boy who was sitting next to me was howling so much his cheeks hurt. And she even included some CanCon. Does that mean she can get an award from some Canadian arts thingy? I’d love to see the dress she wears.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Chicken Style Black Forest

SO it seems I found myself in the kitchen after smoking a little pot (quelle surprise!) and opened the fridge to see what gluttonous treasures lay within. Now I got (oh wait this an SM for those keeping count.) a sweet deal here. Ray is a nester and we are never for want in the house. Da boy keep a well stocked pantry ladies. All I do is I write him a check each month. And he isn’t a bad roomie. We have a unique companionship.

This may at first look like the utopian ideal I describe but alas there is a weak link. I don’t always like the choices or quantity/quality of things he may buy. I opened the deli tray and saw something that looked like chicken or maybe ham. I’m stoned who cares. I roll up a slice and my brain lays in anticipation to see what my taste buds tell: Is it chicken or is it ham? Then came the screwed up face.

What the fuck is chicken style black forest people? See it is even hard to say. That should portend or at least foreshadow the doom that lay ahead. OH and if that doesn’t say whoa Nelly then the next line says 18% meat protein. And all in the same font. AND not even dropped down a point or to the next line.

Chicken Style
Black Forest
18% Meat Protein

Is this flesh before me the sour and sweat spawned offspring of some bizarre mad scientist lab copulation between species experiment gone awry? You know how mixed babies are usually quite attractive as some aesthetics gene kicks in and takes over the selection process and only the unique genes commingle. (Aside: When I first saw Alex I thought he was mixed. Then I found out he was just unusually quite beautiful.) Where were we? Oh yeah the mad chicken ham beast. It did not get the best of the chicken and pig. Salty as hell - I got borderline hypertension.

I think they know how bad it tastes and add the salt thinking it will magically make it palatable. Yeah sure. Do you think they actually get a big bunch of chicken and ham and grind and mush them together and then shape it to a loaf? Gross.

Furthermore and maybe paramount where is any sense of decency? Man we raise the damned chickens and pigs in captivity and kill the damned chickens and pigs to eat the asses can’t we at least give it a little dignity in death and let it be its own food product. Hell I don’t mind. If I really want those two flavours together I’ll stack them.

Where’s PETA when you need them.