Six Ways to Santiago

I’ve been thinking about the Camino today. I’m sure that’s no surprise to you. It’s another 9+ months until I leave the country and start the longest walk of my life. The magnitude of this step has got me pondering a lot of things about my life, you know?

I wonder about the choices I’ve made. The missteps on the road, the detours and the fast tracks. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But how do I know when to take the long way home?

Tonight I watched a documentary called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. The documentary follows a number of pilgrims along The Way, as they struggle with physical pain and emotional/mental burdens from their lives in the “outside world”. It captures the way each peregrino and peregrina overcome their various stumbling blocks. One of the pilgrims mentions that people have told her that the Camino will answer her question, but that she’s realized she never thought of what question to ask. Another pilgrim takes note of all of the simple beauty she has been blessed with, from wildflowers to raindrops.

I identified with both women. I love details. I look for the little things, and try to stay mindful of the moments of beauty I’m given each day. But I also have a fear that I’m not asking the right questions, that I’m missing some important lessons because I’m so focused on the small stuff that the big picture escapes me.

But there’s time to figure it out. Another pilgrim mentioned that he believed the Camino de Santiago was really just a detour from the bigger Camino – our lives. I tend to agree. Today I’m trying to hold on to the idea that THIS is my journey.

Documentary Days: “Get a Life” & “Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven”

I’ve really been slacking off in the documentary department, but I’ve watched a couple more since last checking in. So far, I’ve watched 11 this month, which leaves me waaaay behind (I wanted to do five per week, or 25 total). Instead, I found this new series on Netflix called Lost Girl, and have been wasting incredible amounts of time drooling over one of the main characters. Seriously, how can you go wrong with this:

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Kris Holden-Ried as Dyson the werewolf, from the series “Lost Girl”

Last week I ended up watching William Shatner’s documentary about Star Trek conventioneers, Get A Life. It was entertaining, though certainly nothing earth-shattering. I grew up in a very sci-fi oriented household, with a Trek-loving mom and a dad who would gladly plop down to watch the newest space-invader flick any time. I personally turned to Star Wars early in life, but Star Trek wasn’t ever far from my radar. I wasn’t a super fan, though, so there’s still much to learn from watching die-hard Trekkies (Trekkers?) do their thing.

The costumes in this film are especially inspiring – check out the winner of the costume contest. I won’t ruin it for you, but OH MAN is that outfit awesome! Watching this movie definitely made me want to get more involved and more active with fandom – I love costuming, and have always wanted to get dressed up to go to comic book conventions, but somehow never make it around to it. Since I’m already a member of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, with an invitation to march in our annual Mardi Gras parade, I made the decision to go the Star Trek route this year. I’ll post pics later – the parade is this Saturday.

The other movie I ended up watching was Le Cirque: A Table in Heaven, about the famous New York eatery Le Cirque, its owner Sirio Maccioni, and his three sons. It was another of those rather mindless documentaries where you’re more or less along for the ride, rather than plopping down to learn something important. The movie follows Maccioni and family as they close down the original Le Cirque location and build the restaurant again in a new location. Throughout the film, you learn snippets of the restaurant’s history, Maccioni’s childhood, how the boys feel about their lives in the family business, and how each of the family members feels about the others. It’s not too heavy, though, and I really would have liked to have seen something with a bit more meat on its bones.

Overall, the movie feels like it’s just going through the motions rather than taking a stab at genuine exploration, though maybe that’s a result of watching this family run their business with much less passion than one would expect from a family of Italian restauranteurs. Now that I’m thinking back on it, I wonder if the director was a fan of Fellini. There’s a lot of bittersweet happening in the scenes, just underneath the (boring?) placid surface. Meh. I don’t have it in me to critique fully. Watch it yourself and tell me what you think.

Documentary Days: The Dhamma Brothers

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This weekend I watched two more documentaries, making that 10 documentaries in 13 days – right on target for my goal of five documentaries per week. Yesterday I saw The Dhamma Brothers, a documentary that studies the effects of Vipassana meditation on a group of prisoners. This particular form of yoga is extremely strenuous, lasting for 10 days, during which the practitioners live in close quarters, meditating in place for hours on end and keeping a strict schedule of meditation, sleep and mealtimes, all in complete silence other than to listen to recorded chanting at certain points. The prison in question, Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama, houses roughly 1,500 violent criminals, and many of the men who enrolled in the Vipassana course were convicted murderers with no chance of parole.

This movie was quite touching for me for many reasons. As an empath, I pick up on people’s personal energies and feelings very well, and seem to have an easier time than many in realizing our shared collective as humankind. It’s not hard for me to imagine what it takes to be a murderer – or a saint. I will be neither, but I understand that the normal human is capable of mistakes, extreme emotions, and similarly extreme actions. At one point in the film, someone mentions that we have to understand that a thief is not ONLY a thief, a liar is not ONLY a liar, a murderer is not ONLY a murderer – we are all something more than our lowest action. The interviews with some of the practitioners really hit home for me that these are just men with a lot on their conscience, men who deserve a chance at receiving a helping hand, a friend to listen and help them sort through their tangled lives. But in prison, they were given nothing of the sort – not until they were introduced to Vipassana.

The changes were obvious, and immediate. Some of these men had never had the chance to just sit and reflect on the person they were inside, to try to work through their past actions, and the actions of others that had led them to become criminals. Those interviewed spoke of their crimes, and described what it was like to try to bury guilt, to live with pain without officially recognizing it, then to be forced to sit, just sit, and let all of these horrible things float to the surface to be dealt with once and for all. One man described it as the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Another used the time not only to reflect on the murders he had committed, on a future he had turned away from, but also on the death of his daughter, something that had hardened him and caused him intense pain for years. As he reflected on her loss, and her place in the cosmos, he felt his pain lift.

I loved this movie. It was simple, powerful, and poignant. It also makes me want to try Vipassana. To see men caged like animals, but taking full blame for their actions and making the most of their new life behind bars – shunning violence, embracing brotherhood – is a powerful thing. Besides the obvious story of watching these men go through meditation training, there’s also an interesting back story of how the prison officials encounter this program, considered quite controversial by the backwoods hicks in the area who believe that meditation is akin to witchcraft and devilry. The program is shut down for a time, for fear that these changed men have somehow been converted to Buddhism, a threat to the conservative Christians who run the joint. It’s years before the program returns, but it finally does. That kind of simplemindedness is rampant in the Southern U.S., unfortunately, but hopefully the results will help to dispel the crazy myths, and treatment programs like this will continue to grow in popularity. There’s no reason for these men to live in fear and pain for the rest of their lives, just because they made mistakes. Sure, some people are rotten to the core and deserve to be punished severely – but there are many, many more who have only ever needed a guiding hand, true friendship, and the encouragement and environment necessary to start contemplating their place in the world.

Isn’t that how it is for us all, though?

I’ll write about the other movie I watched soon (maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow).

Documentary Days: After Porn Ends

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I know I’m going to get some weird traffic with the word “porn” in my blog title, but that’s the name of the movie, so that’s what I’m writing. This one was an odd choice, but a good one. It’s something that I added to the list for nights when I’d need to get The Man to agree on my movie choice (he’s not that into documentaries, so I knew I’d need something different to entice him). And it was enticing, alright – lots of skin, lots of awkward scenes, and from where I was sitting, lots of sad stories…but there were good ones, too.

I’d venture to guess that this movie would probably appeal more to people who have any idea of what’s going on in the porn industry, or what has gone on in those kinds of films for the last 30 years. If you’ve never watched anything like that, you’d have no idea who the people being interviewed are. I’ve only ever watched one movie, and was bored out of my mind with it, so I had no clue who these “stars” were.

The documentary is broken up into conversations with a number of different male and female ex-porn stars, and manages to capture a wide section of lifestyles pre/during/post sex trade. The people they interview are old and young, single and married, some seemingly irrevocably broken and others mostly well adjusted. The Man remarked to me at one point that it was 50/50, with half of them living tough and scared, and the others getting on with their lives after porn. To me, it seemed pretty much like any other random selection of folks you’d talk to in the rest of the world. Half of us have our shit together, while the other half are still figuring it out, or maybe just failing for good.

I enjoyed seeing some of the older stars talk about their careers and share their current lives with the camera. One man has a happy married life and lots of artsy hobbies. A once-gorgeous older woman talks proudly of her screen career, and happily talks of first meeting her husband, now an elderly man. Another plastic-y woman bemoans her inability to get a job, and talks about battling cancer. About 3/4 of the interviewees have used or abused drugs of every kind. One woman talks about locking herself in the bathroom with a bag of coke, and another gets out of porn to quell her addictions, just to get back into the business with her husband. One woman runs for governor of California, and another lets fans photograph her crotch. Yes, I said “crotch.” I’m KNOW I’m going to get some weird spam this time.

This is one of those movies that doesn’t teach you anything you didn’t already know. Almost all of the women got into porn because they were broken and abused beforehand. The men got in because it was easy and paid money. No one got out unscathed. The industry leaves an invisible yet still indelible mark on its participants; there’s no such thing as being anonymous. Even when one ex-star runs away to the middle of nowhere, Utah – she’s accidentally identified by her kids’ Google-happy preschool teacher. Hell, even I know who they are, now, and that’s saying something!

Documentary Days – Mansome

Just finished watching the sixth documentary of the month, a feature-length piece on men and appearances, aptly named Mansome. The Man wandered in half way through, sat down to watch, and declared that the 1 hour and 22 minute film was about 1 hour and 20 minutes too long. I didn’t totally agree, but could see where he’s coming from – it was mostly a fluff piece, and I expected a much more in-depth look at the booming men’s grooming business. Instead, this film is a light-hearted look at topics like moustaches, beards (with heavy focus on beard-growing competitions), body hair removal, baldness, and overall fashion/skincare/grooming. Although I loved all of the little interviews with notable celebrities like John Waters, Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, and Zach Galifianakis, it still felt somewhat empty and pointless. I would have preferred a history on men’s grooming products, or some good evidence of why men should take care of their skin more, or even a larger segment on men’s hair loss treatments, since the only part of the movie that really had me enthralled was the part that featured Mr. Carmine International Hair Salon in Yonkers, NY.

The salon uses a technique called Folligraft to fuse replacement hair to the head using an invisible membrane. The movie shows the membrane being planned out, then attached, and it’s nothing like old toupees used to be. It looks and acts like the person’s own hair, down to the fact that you can run your hand through it and see the person’s scalp at the part. It’s mind-blowing, and as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to watch the movie. There was one more product that’s discussed in the movie that made me laugh, and taught me a new term – bat wings. If you’re interested in avoiding them, you should check out Fresh Balls. Yup, I’m not joking, it’s a product.

Documentary Days – (A)Sexual

I just finished watching my fifth (and final) documentary for the week, a strange little gem called (A)Sexual. It’s really got me thinking, though mostly because the idea of being asexual is a tangle of conflicting definitions and flexible emotional boundaries, as evidenced in the movie. Let’s just put this on the table: I have very little interest in sex, and that disinterest seems to be shocking to most people I know in person, though through the internet I know that there are lots of other men and women out there just like me. I’ve read a lot about sex and desire and intimacy and relationship balance, because I love to read and it’s a subject that obviously has great personal interest to me. For awhile I wondered if I could be asexual, and I checked out AVEN, the group that also happens to be the subject of this movie. I quickly realized that even with my fleeting touches of desire, I’m possibly oversexed in relation to those who self identify as asexual. What I’ve got is a hormone imbalance, stress, and more important things to do. What they’ve got is a complete lack of sexual attraction to anyone at any time, and a really hard time from a lot of assholes on this planet who think that not having sex makes you some kind of freak.

The movie manages to encapsulate a lot of different views and opinions on asexuality through interviewing asexual people as well as others who identify as straight, gay, bi, extremely sexual, more casually sexual, etc. There are interviews with people who know nothing of asexuality and are asked for opinions on a variety of basic questions to set a kind of opinion “control group.” There are also interviews with scientists, therapists, and other specialists who talk about the study of asexuality and links (or lack of) to other health and/or mental issues. I wasn’t surprised to learn that there might be a link between asexuality and Asperger’s, and will probably be researching this further, since I’m always interested to learn about issues arising from Autism Spectrum Disorders. After the movie, I also found this really interesting review by author Stephen Elliott. I thought you might like to read it, too.