From Sundance
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From Sundance

I’m reading from my forthcoming novel “Immortal” at the Sundance Film Festival. Specifics: today at 2:30 at the NY Film Lounge, 545 Main Street. The opportunity to do this makes me sound much cooler than I actually am; I’ve been reconciled to my inner nerd for many years. But it’s a fun way to promote this novel, and I’m having a good time here.

There aren’t as many celebrities as I’d hoped. I’ve heard of a few, but laid eyes on none. What there are is a lot of people who passionately involved in a creative art. Mostly film people, and they love what they’re doing. From what I can tell, they’re simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated by Sundance. They’re amped up on creative juice while also slogging through the scutwork it takes to bring any ethereal idea into physical reality and widespread distribution.

It’s great to feel this ferment of hard work and inspiration, determination and inventiveness. Sure, film people often have an annoying monovision: film is everything to all people, it’s all there is! And they all dress in a uniform here on the mountain, and they’re proud of that: jeans, sweater, uggs, with a loud “VIP” badge dangling from their necks.

But this is all easily forgiven because of their passion and often courage in bringing unusual ideas into the medium of film, and hoping to share it with the masses. Last night I went to one of those parties that I’d read about, but never thought I’d attend. At a mansion in a gated mountaintop community, a place with its own basketball court in the basement, thirty people serving caviar hors d’oeuvres, and, everywhere, open tubs of ice, containing bottles of Stella for the plucking. There was a live band, a raucous group of Brooklynites called the Jones Street Boys who played blue grass with Southern aplomb.

It was a treat to behold the lavishness. More importantly, I bumped into some interesting people. There was a woman who told me she was producing a film based on the memoir of a blind French resistance leader.

“Wait,” I cried, “You mean Jacques Lusseyran?” She nodded with delight and surprise.

“How do you know him, and his book ‘And there was light’?” she asked.

“I used to be a healer,” I told her. “That’s an important book for healers, about vision and seeing without the physical apparatus.” Indeed, it’s a wonderful book, one of my favorites. The producer seemed not to know what to make of my having been a healer. People often don’t. But for me, it was a thrill to think that a cherished book had a possibility of making its way into mass consciousness, where it can nourish and uplift everyone.

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On Gratitude: Trikonasana & the Dyson vacuum cleaner

On Gratitude: Trikonasana & the Dyson vacuum cleaner

Arctic winds are breezing across Manhattan, so I decided not to go out to the gym. Instead I rolled out my yoga mat and went into my practice. Within a few moments, as my muscles warmed, stretched and opened, I was asking myself, “Why don’t I do this every day?”

It’s such a pleasure to feel myself grounding deeply into my body, to sense the fabric whole. This, even when my hip flexors complain and my hamstrings ache. It’s a sweet ache. Another ten minutes and the ache merges into my breath, and it’s all one thing: me, the practice, the pain, the warmth, tension flexing into motion, into resonance. After forty-five minutes and a delicious shavasana, corpse pose, I’m another Traci. A better one.

And I love my Dyson vacuum cleaner. I love what it represents: individual inventiveness. And it works good, too.

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Down with Priesthoods

A certain person who has worked with Carlo Pedretti, the renowned Leonardo da Vinci scholar, told me that, during the restoration under the Sforza palazzo in Milan, working with the pedestal for Leonardo’s incomparable horse, Pedretti has uncovered new information about Leonardo’s use of perspective.

“But he’s saving it for when the time is right,” the person confided.
Oh, and when will that be? “You mean he’s selfishly hoarding it for when he’s concerned that his illustrious career is flagging,” I said, with my usual tact.
“No, no, he’s just waiting for the right time,” the person insisted.
“The right time?” I cried. “The right time is now! I hope some enterprising grad student takes initiative and posts the information on the web!” The person stiffened and wandered off, drink in hand.
The point is that Leonardo da Vinci does not belong to Professore Pedretti, no matter how many decades Pedretti has invested in him. Leonardo belongs to the world. Leonardo belongs to humanity. If Pedretti has uncovered new information about Leonardo, who is one of the top ten most interesting people in history, Pedretti has a moral obligation to share it as fast as possible with as many people as possible. To sit on this information for any reason is petty selfishness of the worst sort. It reeks of Pedretti’s personal quest for power and glory, gain and status. It is corrupt.
I stand for the democratization of knowledge. But this places a terrible burden on civilians like me. The priesthoods who want knowledge concentrated within their own hands are not going to dispense that knowledge with any kind of grace. We have to bring ourselves to it, and work to understand.
Nowhere is this more easily visible than in science. Scientists don’t make it easy for non-scientists to understand what the hell is going on, and this is a big problem, because right now, scientists run the world. By that I mean they control what we eat, what we drink, what we breathe, what medicines we are administered, and so forth. Americans are, right now, guinea pigs in a giant laboratory experiment regarding genetically modified foods. Sure, an apricot with a few fish genes spliced in is shinier. But is it really, REALLY just as healthy as the regular kind of apricot that has a few speckles and brown spots, and a full complement of apricot genes, and only apricot genes? No one can really say for sure. Our grandchildren will be able to tell us, because their bodies will show the results of eating fishy apricots.
And don’t think the American Government is going to protect us. The FDA is nothing more, and nothing less, than a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies. In the American Government’s quest to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few people who own a lot of companies, and to reward those who help them do that, under the venal slogan that “The business of America is business,” scientists from biotech companies like Monsanto regularly leave their company position to work in the FDA when their company needs a product approved. There is no objective neutral analysis of data, because companies that have to spend the money to get through the approval process want to recoup that money as fast as possible. Is anyone really surprised that pharmaceutical companies were only releasing those trials that had the positive results they wanted? Corruption isn’t confined to scholars.
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Art historians, modern literary crap & the stink of scientology

I found myself writing to a former professor that the translator of Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists” should be taken out behind the ivy tower and shot in both knee-caps. The reason being that the “Lives” are wonderfully gossipy and dishy, once the reader gets past the god-awful diction. Unfortunately, and unforgivably, the frequent infelicities of language make it hard for a reader to stay that long. We should be indulging ourselves in guilty pleasure, the naughty deliciousness of scoping out intimate, graphic details of the actual personalities of master artists from Cimabue to Sansovino. Instead we’re slogging through a contorted, antiquated dialect of English to which it is very hard to relate.

So regular, civilian readers do not get to savor these all-too-human lives. Thus the ravishing nourishment they offer the soul passes from our collective awareness. We’re left with the fetish of reality TV, which is probably another post on how the decline of story is a barometer for the decline of civilization.

So what is it about art historians and scholarship in general that demands impenetrable rhetoric? Does writing that badly prove how smart they are, because the rest of us can’t understand it? Or are they just boorish and don’t care how sentence after crabbed, meaningless sentence affects their readers? I read a lot of art history for research purposes for my novels, and I am boggled by how badly written most of these books are.
And it’s not just art history that’s poorly written. People in the publishing industry complain about how there are fewer readers every year. Well, why do they expect people to partake of the meal, when the fare consists mostly of wormy fruit and twinkies? Take what is considered literature these days. Ninety nine percent of it is precious, self-congratulatory, and self-referential, with unlikeable characters. It’s an absolute dereliction of a novelist’s duty to write that way.
Self-reference and self-congratulation has been a post-modernist virus, nurtured carefully by the moral relativism of psychotherapy. I am all for self-esteem, but in my opinion, we are not going to build it within ourselves by telling ourselves that whatever we do is okay. We are going to earn it. By acting in honorable ways: keeping our word, choosing integrity, behaving with courtesy and respect for others, accomplishing difficult and worthwhile tasks, and so forth. By returning to those old-fashioned values that have stood the test of millennia. Let me state right now that I do not refer to perfectionism, with is a virulent form of self-hate. Nor have I been a paragon of model behavior. I’ve made a lot mistakes, broken a whole bunch of the 10 Commandments, and hurt plenty of people. But that’s not who I want to be. I aspire to better.
And I think that self-reference is what puts people off about scientology, despite the enormous appeal and considerable talent of its most famous proponent, Tom Cruise. There’s this queasy sense of arrogant self-entitlement that radiates out from scientology, so it doesn’t feel like a religion with any spirituality to it. Spirituality has to do with love, charity, kindness and compassion that elevate beyond the self.
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Dying & Transference

Dying & Transference

A man I both like and respect told me recently that his relative passed away. Someone he cared about, someone beloved in his extended family. The kind of infectiously good-humored guy that everyone would miss at the next wedding. The kind of guy who was funny and perceptive, and made it a point to connect with people where they live.

My friend was sad, filled with dark energy that probably contained some elements of anger: loss makes us angry as well as bereft. I knew before I interacted with him that he had something going on. In the way that healers do consciously, and a lot of people do without full awareness, I had reached out with my consciousness and scanned him. I had sensed something dark and roiling in him; to my long-distance senses, it looked and felt like heavy dark clouds in the blob of his being, which is usually large, harmonious, and light-filled. But I read the dismal energy as relating to me, and wondered, What have I done to piss him off?

I perceived accurately, but then misinterpreted what was going on. It was another lesson to me, in the ongoing curriculum of this life, about the filter through which I view the world, and the pitfalls of psychic senses. Even if a psychic perceives a phenomenon correctly, the information can get distorted within a psychological context!

And then I wanted to comfort my friend, who is a good guy himself, immensely supportive. But what could I really say? When someone beloved dies, nothing except time can comfort a grieving person. I try never to minimize that, or to respond with nonsense and platitudes. It’s never ‘good enough’ that someone had seventy-six years of life, if we love that person. Plenty of people live to be a hundred, why shouldn’t sweet, generous Aunt Bess? So I told my friend that I was sorry.


“Come with me if you want to live”

The Sarah Connor Chronicles

I can’t watch a movie or television show without analyzing for story. Occupational hazard. I wonder if dentists find themselves examining teeth when someone smiles at them, or if dermatologists inspect complexions of faces, however innocently, turned toward them. Somehow when your profession becomes deeply grafted into your identity, the profession becomes the lens through which you experience the world, people, events, and relationships. Writers are terminally infected with this. We’re always looking for raw material, for primary life experience, with which to create, and creation is the ultimate imperative.

Years of laboriously re-inventing the wheel have taught me that story reduces to three things:
1. What does your character want?
2. What keeps your character from getting it?
and 3. How does your character solve that problem?
Out of these three questions arise character and plot.
So it was with pleasure that I watched “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” last night. I readily confess to being a long-time “Terminator” fan. The first “Terminator” was a perfect movie that observed all of the unities of time, place, and action, and in which every detail was exquisitely honed to reflect the theme of the evil of machines taking on intelligence. The message of Sarah’s answering machine: “Even machines have feelings….” Well, no, they don’t, that’s why they were out to annihilate the human race. The bar into which a desperate Sarah fled when she thought Kyle Reese was stalking her: “Tech Noir.” It’s a virtuoso performance: the streamlined perfection of detail in this movie.
Television never shows the same level of craftsmanship, but it can entertain with flair and drama, and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” do that. Sarah’s introductory voiceover was intriguing: “What if the only dream you can share with your child is a nightmare?” Sarah wants to save humanity with an apocalyptic intensity, and the show wastes no time getting into danger, conflict, struggle, issues of trust and fear and hope. Enjoyable, watchable. I hope the show makes it, that it survives all the obstacles new shows face: trigger-happy executives who yank a show before it can build a core audience, finding it’s voice and perfect time spot, and right now, the writer’s strike. I want this show to live.