See more articles, reviews, fiction and poetry, including more of my writings, at group blog PLUTO'S REALM.

Monday, February 26, 2007


I've been trying to get the top part of the background to this new blog template to turn black, hacking away at the html, but it stays pink regardless of my efforts. The Rufi are laughing.

Today had a sour start to it. Birds have covered my car with shit again, and there was no opportunity to wash it off. I'm still having trouble getting paid for all my collections at work. I still don't have an insurance card despite assurances, after almost five months of employment and four weeks of deductions. The more I learn about the websites I'm trying to build, the more frustrated I get.

The front of the duplex I'm renting is really ugly and getting worse. One of my old friends keeps borrowing minor sums of money and being really slow about returning them. It's frustrating trying to lose the weight I put on in a year or two of semi-involuntary lethargy. I worry about going to the doctor for the first time in years; what will he find? I constantly realize no one around me thinks at all like I do.

I have artistic visions I can't express; I don't have the talent. One of my favorite writers actually responded to my email. I wonder if my fellow Buddhists are making a mistake not being politically active, and whether I'm making the same mistake. I have visions of grinding metals and heat. I don't like all the thoughts that come through my head. I wonder if I'm crazy.
Sometimes I wonder if delusion is not better than seeing clearly, then I wonder if I know the difference. The United States is about to attack another country; no one is doing anything to stop it.

I cried when John Lennon was shot. He was my first hero.

This must be what blogs are like.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Due to some unfortunate early-morning fiddling around with the template, my links section and some of the add-on features have been deleted. We'll be paying some attention to that on Sunday.

Meanwhile, all the content of the blog entries is still here, so enjoy!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Christiane F.

At various times throught a lifetime, one sees movies that change that life forever, and for me, this was one of them. It gave me a vision I'd never had before, and it's been with me since. I've been trying since yesterday to remember just where and when I saw this movie. It must have been in 1982 or 1983, when I was living in San Francisco, making occasional visits to Palo Alto to complete my law degree at Stanford, but mostly soaking up the ambience of the City itself; I remember how this films' incredible soundtrack inspired me to ride the Muni underground late at night with my cassette deck and headphones, listening to Bowie and Eno, looking at the other riders. Looking up the movie's history now on the internet, I see it was completed (in Germany) in 1981, released in theatres there in 1982, so probably only in a handful of US cities could I have seen the film, especially that early. Then I lost the film for years -- couldn't ever find it on VHS, or on DVD, until I randomly turned it up on a Neflix search last week, and had to have it immediately; the film pulled on me like heroin did on its young protagonist.

Christiane F.: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo is a true story, ripped from the headlines of Berlin circa 1980. Its heroine is a 13- and 14-year-old girl who gets into drugs through the club scene, becomes addicted to heroin, and winds up as a train station prostitute. The film is ostensably an anti-drug movie, but the only redemption for the film's protagonist comes in a voice-over at the very end; the real message here is in the imagery. And the imagery is some of the most powerful, maybe the most powerful I've ever seen in a film. The soundtrack is David Bowie's best music, mostly from the Low and Heroes albums he produced with Brian Eno during one of his own druggie periods. The visuals are stunning, gritty yet cold, the lonely horror of the train stations, restrooms and Soviet-era block apartments set as background to the warmth and humanity of the characters. Amazingly, Natja Brockhorst, the actress who portrays Christiane and probably the most beautiful child actress I've ever seen, doesn't seem to have had that much of a career after, and is now working behind the cameras.

Although I searched for this film for years, I had no idea it had a cult following until I renewed my internet search; it looks like I am far from the only person whose life it touched. Yet when I try to reach into my head to tell you exactly how this movie affected me, I suffer from a rare loss of words. Certainly, the ethereal, haunting beauty of the film is memorable for a lifetime; yet many of its scenes are of stark depradation. In today's films, even the supposedly "hardcore" ones like Alpha Dog, drug use (except for marijuana) usually occurs off-screen; in Christiane F. is is explicit, in your face; it is the character's lives, and there is nothing glamorous about the way it is portrayed. As opposed even to later well-done drug movies like Spun, there is no humor here, no let-up; just sadness and warmth, icy cold and pragmatic reality.

So. I did not become a heroin addict after watching this movie; I did not move to Berlin. After all, this movie was about kids, and I was probably about 25 when I saw it. It did give me a new vision of cool, a kid with his or her head all smacked-out riding the subways. It took me years to figure out you can't get that head from drug use; it just comes from watching movies as good as this one. You can't groove on the beautiful Bowie soundtrack when you're jonesing for a hit, of heroin or anything.

So when I think of the image the film formed in my head of a cool junkie riding the subway through the night with Bowie in his ears, I realized that's an image that could never meet reality; only the voyeurs like me could do that. The real junkies were having an existence I wouldn't wish for you (unless you're in the Bush administration) on your worst stay. It think that maybe heroin addiction is such a powerful and compelling image for us because it is the distillation of essence of a life driven by desire and attachment. We are all, in a sense, junkies, wanting that perfect buzz we can never have it, and we don't all seek it from drugs. We seek it from money, power, sex and all the other cravings signified by all the obvious buzzwords and labels. And like junkies, we'll never lose that urge, but it's part of who were are; to steal the words of one of the biggest cults in operation today, we have to just deal with it, one day at a time.

[I'm writing this early on Sunday morning with a head full of sugar and caffeine, having made myself buckwheat pancakes for breakfast. Now here's a drug buzz I can live with and still work out later today. Find your own comfort zone.]

Oh, and by the way, this movie is available only in German or in English dub; I would have preferred to watch it in German with English subtitles. So much for the comfort zone.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Zen Updates

I made it back to the Atlanta Soto Zen Center last weekend for the first time since last October; what used to be the monthy sesshin is now the zazenkai, to differentiate it from the longer events that happen now three times a year and has, counterintuitively, gotten longer; aspiring zazen-sters can now sit from Thursday evening through Sunday. This time the emphasis was on the minute details of Soto Zen ritual, which can be a bit much if you don't do them all the time, but which were interesting to me since most of the ritual is pretty much blown off here at the Nashville Zen Center.

The down side of the weekend was that the ASZC isn't heated properly, so the sleeping accomodations stayed right at 58 degrees, which if memory serves is the constant temperature of a cave, until Nat, who accompanied me, broke down and bought a $9.99 space heater at Eckert's the night before we left. The upside for me is that a record number of Nashvillians went with me: new NZC president Nat, who'd gone with me to my initiation in September, 2006, and Ana. Ana is probably the story of the retreat for me; she's a 19-year-old Zen student who's been sitting by herself or friends for a few years and who finally came to sit with us at the Barn the weekend before the zazenkai. To watch someone handle their first extended sitting, with minimal attendance and at adverse temperatures, as well as she did was inspiring, and a reassurance that you don't have to middle-aged to appreciate Zen. After listening to Nat whine all weekend, her fortitude was impressive. Here's hoping Ana stays in the practice; we need her.

Next on the menu: ASZC Abbot Taiun Michael Elliston returns to Nashville for a one-day zazenkai (no one else here is calling it that, but I like the term) on Feb. 24 at Jennye's mom's beautiful lake house north of Mount Juliet. Meanwhile, I've just joined the Board of the Nashville Buddhist Festival, a cooperative event put on by various schools of Nashville Buddhism set for Sept. 15. The event is supposed to be annual (this will be the fourth), though it was cancelled last year for various reasons. The Tibetan Buddhists who had been a mainstay of the event have pulled out, allegedly on the instruction of their teachers (?), so the event is apparently being hosted by us at the Barn as usual (a recent tidbit of knowledge which came to us a couple of weeks ago from an outside source, prompting our inquiry and my concommitent participation), being put on this time by the remaining Buddhist groups, including the Vipassana group, One Dharma (a non-sectarian group with Zen tendencies organized by previous NZC president Lisa Ernst), a Thich Nat Hanh group of which I had no prior knowledge, and us. I think there may be a Shambala-related Tibetan group in there somewhere, too. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how it comes off without the Tibetans, who always supplied the crowds.

A side note: There is an ongoing project involving some Theravadans (Southeast Asian Buddhists, I believe) who have acquired and have been working on renovating an old house near the Hood in downtown Nashville into what is being projected as a non-sectarian abode for the use of all Buddhists in the area. They have never been involved in a Buddhist Festival before, but now I am thinking.

Also, as of this date I am scheduled to host a "panel" on Zen at the Middle Tennessee Anime Convention on April 15, a seeming dubious venture, but I did it last year and met Ana, so if I have to unearth one Zen student at a time, it's worth it; hopefully Ana is helping me with the presentation. It's currently scheduled at 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning, prime time to be sure.

Also, I blithely write along in these posts without ever referring to my Links sections, which are just over there to the right, thinking that the additions would be pretty obvious, but I may be over-assuming the attention of my readers to these things; so I would just point out that I have re-organized the things a bit in the last few months, and also added some more Buddhist links and some personal sites of my friends: note particularly the blog of Shiho Gareth Young, a senior disciple at the ASZC, as well as that of Shokai, another ASZC student/teacher, and Ana's MySpace page, which has an ongoing blog as well. Check out the links; there are a few surprises there as well.

I'll be back with another thematic rant in due time. For those of you checking out the hyperlinks, which was half the point of this entry, some of the above have no web page. If I have missed anything, let me know.