Saturday, August 8, 2015

Try to Remember

I was walking down Sunset Blvd near Vine this week where I've walked a jillion times before. And I got really caught up in people watching. The angry homeless man. The angry guy in a suit. The street musician who brought a full upright piano out onto the sidewalk in front of the Cineramadome. The desperate woman racing somewhere, clearly over-burdened.

And the strangest and most obvious thought sort of overcame me: that's someone's child. Every single person here. Is someone's child. This stupidly obvious thought rolled through me like some profound tidal wave. The profundity of what it means to be a daughter or a son. And my God-- we all have that insanely profound thing... foundationally. Without exception. I know I probably sound like a guy who's been hit in the head too many times, but my mind then instantly flashed through how many people I had angrily cut off in traffic or become impatient with just during that afternoon, and how often and how common it is to judge someone in big and small ways-- we all do it constantly. And how impossible it would have been for me to act quite so thoughtlessly if I were doing those things to someone who I was looking at as sacred and special. There was this bizarre and overwhelming moment of feeling this sense of loving and honoring every person I saw. I recognize how crazy and in need of meds that will sound to the judging mind because my own judging mind has a lot of commentary about this. But for just a moment, and at least in my own heart (and through that lens), we were all suddenly in the same boat. I mean, we had been all along, I just hadn't been looking at it that way until that moment. We were all daughters and sons. It's a whole lot harder to walk blithely past the homeless man when you think "What if he were my son?" Because he is someone's son. It's harder to judge the pushy woman or dismiss the angry jerk. Because suddenly, you realize the enormity of who these beings are. Sons and daughters. With impossibly enormous value.

There's something deliciously fast and cheap and sort of rock and roll about that intersection. But also sad too in how it seems to somehow sort of depersonalize and shrink the humanity of all of us bustling through there a little bit.

Losing my mom last year drove home what a truly profound thing the love between a mother and child can be. And suddenly watching every single person on this cheap corner through the lens of "that angry man is someone's son." Or "that exhausted overwrought woman is someone's daughter." Using this absurdly obvious truth as a lens just stopped me.

It's one thing to subscribe to some hippy-dippy notion that, 'Yeah, yeah, all life is meaningful and has value. We're all one. Whatever.' But pausing my typical self-involved mayhem for a second, using this idea about sons and daughters to look just a little more deeply... just for a second... I guess it let me see that underneath the bustling circumstance of every single one of us is something impossibly and immensely and unspeakably sacred. However you want to frame that, we all know it. And in the most blatant and obvious way. We all know that we are all sons and daughters. And as I stood in the commotion genuinely amazed by the incredible beauty in every person I saw, beauty that had been totally invisible to me moments before, I had another thought. Because undoubtedly, moments later when this little reverie passed, I would go right back to the habitually judging mind. That lifetime of habit doesn't just disappear and transform permanently. But that next thought that came to me was simply:

What would happen if I could manage to see through the lens of this truth all the time? I keep rediscovering that the most profound truths tend to be the simple ones. And isn't that the real trick in life? To try to remember them once we've stumbled upon them.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Letters to Erin, Part 1: Please Call Me By My True Names

I haven't written much here of late, but I am constantly writing letters to my brilliant friend Erin. Erin is a phenomenal artist who I have known since I was 12. She has watched me go through a fairly dramatic number of changes throughout my life so far and she knows me pretty well. That is to say, she knows all the incarnations of me pretty damn well. We'll leave it at that for now.

So, I occasionally write her some fairly bizarre letters. And I thought they might make interesting blog entries. Or I might get institutionalized after making them public. I guess we'll see. Because I'm going to start a little series of "Letters to Erin" and this will be #1.

Also, we call each other "baddy." It's a silly inside thing. If I keep posting these letters and anyone actually cares to know why we do that, maybe I'll explain further at some point. But just so you know, it's affectionate.

This letter followed one of my weird rants to her in which I copped to being totally brainwashed by biblical mythology and, tongue-in-cheek, wondered if we on planet earth are actually in Hell. So, it's a real barn-burner. Enjoy, kids.


Baddy, I hate everyone. 

I think if this were Hell, that there would be these things we call hope and love and even joy. Because if you were just on fire the whole time, you'd get used to it. No. For it to really be Hell, you would have to have the illusion that it could get better. 

The things we call love and hope and joy, they're often so fleeting. We turn on each other when we don't like what someone does-- if they really defy our boundaries, regardless of our supposed love or loyalty to that person. There are no people who are un-betrayable. Even siblings and parents and children, or maybe especially, can be cast aside for treating us badly enough. I personally know a little about that. And I'm not even saying it's wrong. At all. But what I am saying is that we live in a deeply fucked-up dimension.

Abraham-Hicks teachings call this "contrast." They say that contrast is the place from which all "rockets of desire" are "launched." In other words, when you're sick, you are clearer on how much you desire health. When you're poor or hungry, you're never more clear that you want money and food and well-being.  Etc. And they say that that is "the energy that creates worlds." But even that, when you parse it, is essentially saying the world is a fucked up place where people suffer tremendously and from that fucked up stuff, better things are created. Another way to say it more simply is that there is tremendous pain in birth. That seems to be a law of the universe.  

Here's what I'm saying: that is fucked up beyond all comprehension. And my psyche has been programmed with the notion that that deep-fucked-up-ness is something that has been crafted by a "good" God. And I'd really like to punch that "God" in his sadistic face. To put it mildly.

Abraham is saying, even in the most extreme suffering- though they would wish it on no one, energies in the universe are born and those energies give rise to real-world things. Real-universe things. It's not just the food we grow, the water we drink and the air we breathe. It's the stars in the sky and the gravity under our feet. It's the planets and the solar system and the sun and the universe. 

That's not good enough for me. The suffering in the world is so extreme.

I keep coming back to Buddhist thought because they're the only ones who make any sense to me. Buddhist tenet #1 is "In life there is suffering" (and the sooner you accept this, the more peace you will have). So instead of railing against suffering (like I am in this letter-- and in my life), you just work endlessly so you can finally face abject horror and learn to go, "Ah, yes, suffering." 

It's that story of the monk saying to the warlord, "Don't you know that you could run your sword through me and I wouldn't blink an eye?" I don't think arrogance about the monk's enlightenment nor his non-reactiveness is the point of that story. I think the non-reactive mind itself is the point of that story.  So as life runs its many swords through us, we are to learn to take it with grace and equanimity. And in that equanimity, there is less pain in the phenomena and thereby greater freedom.

But I just can't get around the fact that my genuine gut reaction to that is, "So... we have to learn to be the universe's battered wife? Quietly taking it like a good little woman should? And the sooner we accept this, the better off we'll be?" 

And again, I want to find the architect of this and piss on him. 

Clearly, I haven't even embraced tenet #1.  Really at all.

But I do know meditation helps. And when I'm in the quieter meditative mind, which is like another planet from where I am right now, I think this angry mind is cute and funny and also a little silly. And not even harshly. More like in the way I might see a playful six-year-old as silly. I remember thinking this toward the end of my first 10-day vipassana course. And being very clear. And feeling genuinely lighter. 

But thinking of that state of mind and being now, it's like I'm thinking about being someone else. It's like remembering a past life. Because when I'm deeply identified with my ideas of "David" and all of his wants and aversions and dreams and dislikes and reactions, as I am now, I can only remember that once upon a time I was this other person. But I have no idea right now how to even speak that almost totally foreign language of silence and gentle allowing of whatever appears.

I do know that when I read poems like this Thich Nhat Hanh poem (below) that I've probably referenced a million times, it makes me well up in a somewhat uncontrollable way. Even while totally not "taking the seat of the observer" in my life right now and not really in tune whatsoever with my "higher" self, even my ego-mind intuits when the truth is spoken. And seems to tell me with tears. 

I guess it's just that right now, at least living as a 21st-century American in L.A., bringing that meditative mind to the fore is so demanding. And well, I'm currently in total-attachment-and-judgment-mode. And pretty averse to doing all that work. All that work... so that I can be free. 



Please Call Me By My True Names
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Don't say that I will depart tomorrow--even today I am still arriving.  

Look deeply: every second I am arriving to be a bud on a Spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone. 

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that is alive. 

I am a mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river. And I am the bird that swoops down to swallow the mayfly. 

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond. And I am the grass-snake that silently feeds itself on the frog. 

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda. 

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate. And I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving. 

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands. And I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people dying slowly in a forced-labor camp. 

My joy is like Spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth. My pain is like a river of tears, so vast it fills the four oceans. 

Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one. 

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open, the door of compassion. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

My Childhood Bully Wrote "American Sniper"

My partner Jeremy and I saw "American Sniper" on New Year's Day at the Arclight. Afterward, there was a filmed Q and A interview with the screenwriter Jason Hall. I didn't think anything of the super generic name when I first heard it, but when this Jason Hall appeared onscreen, I was genuinely surprised at how remarkably... douchey this guy Jason was. And I actually leaned over and said so to Jeremy, who agreed, as I commented how my experience of writers in general is that they're typically more warm and human and less self-impressed and super-arrogant if not simply more introspective. And that I was hard-pressed to think of a guy who instantly struck me as less douchey. "How on earth did this lug land a gig writing a Clint Eastwood movie?" was the primary question running through my mind. And frankly, it still is.

Then the interviewer says Jason is from Lake Arrowhead, one of my childhood hometowns (I have several), and I do a double take and really LOOK at this guy. And oh my fucking Jesus it's THAT Jason Hall. As in Jason and Jeb Hall who used to torment me endlessly and bully me in elementary school all the way through sixth grade.  Taunting and making fun of me and it somehow always ending with my face in the dirt. And all I can think is... 'David, the matrix has you. For sure.'

I'm writing a musical with a bully character named Chetwick. And there he is in front of me onscreen flapping his jaw. My Chetwick. Fucking mean, entitled Jason. As full of himself at 42 as he was at 12. My "Chetwick." To the T. It's that fucking face. His tongue isn't hanging out anymore the way it always did. But it was him for sure-- that vacant, spoiled rich kid, bullying douchebag Jason Hall. That awful face that used to put mine in the dirt.

I actually contacted Jason years ago on MySpace when that was a thing. HE DIDN'T EVEN REMEMBER ME. YEARS of torment and this dumb, born to super-rich parents entitled lug literally didn't even register who he'd bullied thousands of times. Believe me, the bullied remember. I had to describe to him our little school in the mountains and the inside of his childhood home with the climbing rope that went from the first floor to the ceiling of the second floor, and that I knew Jeb and his little sister Jill for him to believe me. Insanity.

Now the truth is, his younger brother Jeb was the worst bully by far. Jason was more of a spoke in Jeb's bullying wheel. But for me, for some reason, I always hated the bully's flunkies even more than the bully. The bully would yell some heinous threat, but it was always the flunky subsequently  yelling "Yeah!" that really gave the heinous threat its power.

Damn, you could've knocked me down with a light breeze when it fully came over me that I'd just watched a (pretty goddamn boring, Jeremy and I had both soundly agreed, long before this Jason Hall discovery) whole movie by one of my biggest childhood tormentors. Very weird moment for me.

And the person that I instantly most wanted to tell this bizarre story to was my mom who passed away last April. Way too soon and unexpectedly at 64 due to a sudden head injury. This is the chief reason my attitude going into 2015 has been "Goodbye and good riddance, 2014. Wish we'd never met." But now on New Year's Day, I imagined talking to my mom about Jason Hall.

My mom, who was ALWAYS right there in the trenches with me, who knew the name of every bully and every friend. More than anyone, she'd have understood the weirdness of this Jason Hall story more profoundly than anyone.

And I could actually hear her. I knew exactly what she'd say. In her unfailingly blunt and incisively truthful (and totally biased) mother's outrage and wisdom, she'd wind up with, "That dumb little creep? Wow. You run circles around the guy. Imagine what YOU will do next now knowing THAT jerk was able to pull off that." Always in my corner ten times over. I'd point out we don't actually know adult version of Jason Hall. And she'd still call him a little creep. She'd say something genuine yet biting about the power of unexamined and unearned self-confidence and how that's always been my biggest weakness for some reason.

But fair or totally way off base, that was biggest takeaway. When I saw freaking dopy bully Jason, I just had this flood of... "Wait, THAT dude can land a Clint Eastwood movie??" Which was necessarily followed by the thought "Holy crap, I really can do anything" flooding my body.

I guess I'm a mama's boy. And proudly so. My big dream has been to get my musical Invisible to Broadway and bring my mom on opening night. And I spent 2014 heartbroken and feeling like a failure that I'll never have the chance to do that now.

But I'm realizing that's just not so. Her voice, her spirit are as real to me now as ever. Maybe more in some ways. She's right here in my heart and with PLENTY to say about my childhood bullies. And also... taking care of Dad and Sister and our animals. Loving fiercely in a way almost no one I know has the fortitude to actually do. Being authentic and not giving a rip what others think. And owning your power. Knowing who you truly are and holding tightly to it.

It's all right here in my heart. It's her. And it's here for good. And maybe anything and everything really is possible.

So thank you, Jason Hall and the unflappably successful bullies of the world. A door has opened for me.