Mixed Review


Mixed feelings on The Last Jedi.

On the one hand, it had character development, humor and engaging set pieces. We learn more about Kylo Ren and how he emerged. We learn more about Rey, her deep feeling of abandonment, and her quest to learn more about her parents. We see the leadership and command of Leia. We meet Luke again, and see how he has become cynical, closed off from everyone and everything, even the Force. We continue to see the stories of other characters – Finn, Poe, Gen. Hux, BB-8 – and some new characters introduced – Gen. Holdo, Rose, Paige the Codebreaker, etc. Many of the new characters were women, thus continuing to add balance to the gender ratio of the series.

There were also unexpected flashes of humor scattered throughout the movie, moments providing welcome breaks from the story line of conflict, pain, and death. Poe talking to Hux. Luke being handed his light saber. Luke and Rey. Poe at different times. Finn and Rose. These felt refreshing and new.

Finally, the set pieces of space battles and personal combat, were also breathless and riveting, continuing the tradition of previous Star Wars movies. The arc of the Luke’s story was resolved in a moving manner. And the presence of Leia was touching, knowing as we do, that she will not return in Episode IX.

On the other hand there were superfluous characters, some slow scenes, and particularly egregious story holes. Porgs and the caretakers on Skellig felt cutesy and out of place. The scenes on Canto Bight also teeming with characters, all wearing tuxedoes, didn’t seem to make sense. For a while, in the middle, the story slowed down, with exposition and back and forth. Finally, there were big story holes – Leia in space, the lack of background on Snoke, Snoke’s monologuing and his sudden death despite being so powerful, Luke’s lack of understanding of the importance of the Force texts, and Luke’s presence at the end, both physical and ethereal. These seemed too convenient and didn’t seem to fit the Star Wars canon.

So the movie was enjoyable, but I wouldn’t call it a classic like The Empire Strikes Back.


A Decisive Moment


While best associated with Henri Cartier-Bresson, the term “decisive moment” is actually a quotation from Cardinal de Retz:

There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment, and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment.”

We go through lives in a stupor, and don’t see this truth. When this truth becomes evident with startling clarity, often, it is as it applies to our health.

Health can change very suddenly, and then nothing is the same. An illness that turns out to be more than just a cold. A diagnosis of an unknown chronic disease. An accident.

When this happens, we look for causes, because human beings are storytellers. We create these elaborate chains of causality, trying to find the decisive moment. We try to explain, deny or fight what happened. We look for excuses or visualize alternate pasts, hinging on alternate actions at a particular moment .

“If I hadn’t stepped off the sidewalk, the car wouldn’t have hit me.”

“If I had been paying attention, I wouldn’t have cut my tendon.”

“If I hadn’t shared the ……., I wouldn’t have picked up ………”

But this dissembling hides the truth. The deep truth is, sometimes, there is no cause. The links of causality could not have been any different. There is no one decisive moment, a moment when everything changed, that can be pulled out and examined, revisited and relived with exquisite care –– every moment is a decisive moment.

It is only when we accept this truth, that we can find a way forward. Every moment of our lives, is a decisive moment.

We cannot explain it, deny it, or fight it. We can only accept it. And when we accept it, we can find a way forward. Because then we give up the self-indulgence of an alternate past. Because then we give up the hope of a prior imagined future. We stop blaming ourselves and others for what happened.

We face the reality of this immediate moment, every moment, a decisive moment, with gratitude for what we have, without blame for what could have been and without regret for what wasn’t.

Coco and the Afterlife

We saw Disney/Pixar’s Coco yesterday. What a lovely movie, seamlessly melding story, song, and screwball situations to create a soufflé of laughter and tears. At the essence of the story –– the dead have their own life, until they are forgotten by their family; only then do they truly disappear.

What happens when we die? Where does the consciousness of the departed go? Form changes to emptiness, but is everything lost? For those left behind, family members and friends, reminiscences have to be as unreliable as their memories. So what is left, and for how long?

Starting with Mexican culture, and the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, Coco creates a fantastically imagined afterworld, where the dead are alive, and living their lives, just like in the real world. If they are still remembered in the afterworld, they can travel into our world on Dia de los Muertos, and see their family. Unless they are forgotten by their family in the real world, which is when they disappear from the afterworld, to a place that even they don’t know.

If we continue this belief, how might it change in our age, where we can rely on technology to help us remember? Will succeeding generations continue to remember more of the earlier generations, and for how long?

Just because of technology support, I don’t think that memories will become infinite, and we will remember all our previous generations. Life will continue to get busier making remembrance an active requirement. Parents will need to spend time with their children to make sure they remember their grandparents, great grandparents and great, great grandparents, not to mention step parents at different generations.

While technology can capture our predecessors in photo and video, equally, technology generates so many images that sorting, filing, and summarizing will again need to be an active effort. Just like each of us carry large photo libraries, yet often have trouble finding a key moment, we may carry records of past generations, but never examine these records. We will be swamped in a “sea of remembering.”

So I believe that technology will not solve this problem of remembering our past generations. Only the active act of remembering can keep our past generations alive, and Coco, made with all the brilliance that technology can muster, shows us it doesn’t require technology. Just the desire to remember.



I Was So Afraid I Would Die


“I was so afraid I would die, you know,” said my barber as I sat in her chair, while she cut my hair.

We all have these moments when we are not in control.

I sat down in the barber’s chair, politely asked her, “How have you been?” and then relaxed as she started her story.

She tied the neck strip, and draped the barber’s cape around my body. “Oh, I just came back from Vietnam. I was visiting my family there, you know. I had just got there, when I started getting pain in my stomach,” she said. “It was so bad, I thought I was going to die. I thought, ‘Am I having a heart attack? I’m vomiting, I have a fever. Why does it hurt so much?'” The scissors clipped my hair as I saw her reflected in the mirror.

“I went and saw a doctor, and he said, ‘You have gall stones, and need to have surgery right now.'” Her eyes were focused on my head as she kept going around the chair, her hands darting and taking off errant hair, the click-clack sounds creating a rhythm, puffs of hair dropping in my lap, onto the barber’s cape.

“I had to go in for the surgery, and I thought – if I die, what will happen to my clothes, my shoes and my handbags? All my things, you know? Back in the United States? Who would take care of them? Where would they go?”

We don’t like to think of what will happen after we are gone, and when we do, there are more questions than answers. Answering these questions requires too many hard conversations with loved ones. So we maintain the patina of normalcy, and don’t have the conversations – unless, of course, we cannot ignore the premonitions of mortality provided by our bodies. Then, all of a sudden, the questions are irresistible, overpowering, suffocating, beating down the carefully maintained door of our consciousness, demanding attention.

“I had my surgery and it went well, and I am back here, you know, but I was so scared of dying in Vietnam.”

As I sat and looked at her reflection, I suddenly saw her as a full human being. Not just with physical scars visible on her body, but also hidden psychological scars on her mind, received through her experiences.

Just like all of us.

What To Do When Feeling Stuck?

The feeling of being stuck, with no escape

Stuck, with no escape

photo credit: Pozzo di San Patrizio via photopin (license)

Just over the last few weeks, in several conversations, the same theme has emerged:

“I feel I did the wrong course. What I want to do is different from what I’ve studied.”

“I have anxiety and I cannot sleep. I wish things were different.”

“I am in this job, and cannot quit. Because how do I find something comparable?”

” I wish I could lose 50 pounds. But it is so hard to lose weight.”

These are the times when we find ourselves “stuck”, when change is hard and feels impossible. We wish we were somewhere else, a different place, a different time, in a different relationship, a different body. That we had done something different in the past, so we wouldn’t be here today. That only if we could make someone do what we want them to do, our life would be so much better. That only if we had something – a new status, a new possession, a new development in a relationship, a new job, we would feel OK.

That the present moment is not OK.

I am familiar with these feelings. I have struggled too with this thinking. The feeling of being wronged, being misunderstood, being in a place where I don’t want to be, or think I deserve to be.

My words below are the opposite of a recommendation for passivity. Instead they are a clarion call for action with compassion and courage, for beginning, and beginning again and again, not giving up.

Imagine, yourself, “stuck.”

Recognize you are suffering. That you are worthy of compassion, sympathy, love and caring, just like you would help a friend who came to you with such a problem.

Accept the situation you are in. The present cannot be any different, because we can’t go back and change the past.

The future, however, doesn’t have to be the same as the present. That, you, yourself, decide your destiny. Change lies in your hards, and you need the courage to start and move, even if it seems impossible.

Most importantly, to make a change, even if it is a small beginning. To be consistent with this change, even if you fail and have to start again. The biggest danger is to stop because you did not see any results. Your responsibility is just for action, without negativity or blame for failing, with kindness and compassion for yourself.

Don’t let others get you down with criticism or find fault in your progress. You have the responsibility to act, no matter what.

Finally, every day is a new start, a new opportunity. Make the most of it. Just begin again.



Meltdown in Snow

“Get away from me! GET AWAY FROM ME!!”

The voice was loud, angry and quivering with emotion. I turned around on my skis to see what was going on. There it was – a snapshot of a domestic distress at the entrance to the ski lift in Park City, UT.

The woman had two small children clutching each of her legs. She was crying. Both children were crying. Their skis were lying haphazardly on the ground around them. Her partner was standing 3 feet away, gesturing as if he wanted to help, but being told to stay away.

The meltdown of self control that typically happens in the privacy of our homes, away from prying eyes, was happening in front of the transfixed crowd.

“GO AWAY! GO AWAY!!”, she continued yelling at him. Everyone paused to see what he would do. He stood there, looking at her. Her hands tried to comfort the two sobbing children. “Don’t touch me! I don’t want you here! GET AWAY”, she shouted, ignoring the crowd, her eyes flashing at him.

What had snapped her reserve? With two small children, they had to have been together for several years. How long had this been going on?  Or was it just a bad day due to the accumulated stress of the ski vacation – flights and cars, a new hotel room, getting the children dressed, the heavy boots, the cold weather, the falls of beginning skiers?

No one dared intercede. The woman shuffled over with her children to a bench at one of the outdoor tables. Tears were still streaming down her face as she hugged them. At that moment, my skiing group showed up from their run. I left with my group into the anonymity of the lift lines, leaving her sitting on that bench.

For the rest of that day, the woman and her situation were on my mind. Except for the public loss of self control, perhaps we have all been in her shoes. Memories of times where anger, frustration, fatigue, loss, misunderstanding, rejection, or unfulfilled expectations, have led to yelling and screaming. Not our proudest times, but these signs of pain and suffering are what make us human.

On that day, I wished that she and her family could find calm and peace, and I continue to wish for a better future for them.