Too big to be good

tooBig2There’s an infamous saying that almost brought down the American economy. “Too big to fail.” (I already wrote about this in my other blog here, but this post takes the idea in a different direction.) My own take on that absurd concept is, if something’s too big to fail, it’s too big. Period. Note that the statement is actually a lie. Nothing is too big to fail. Failing happens regardless of size. Just ask the Empire.

My own preference is for small: small cars, small churches, small stores, small restaurants, small businesses in general. I’ve worked for big companies – I’m talking BIG companies – and small companies. There’s no comparison. For the most part, the big ones are hell, the small, paradise.

My preference for the petite extends to movies and movie theaters. Yes, there’s a place for the blockbuster playing at the regional Imax theater, but it’s a small place. (That shouldn’t surprise you.) This was brought home to me in the most tangible way possible this past week. I saw BIG movie in a BIG movie house. A few days later I saw a small movie in a cozy little theater. The former was torture, the latter a joy.

technicolorAt the risk of life and limb*, I’ll tell you about the BIG movie. “Interstellar” was BIG in stars, budget, marketing, and most painfully, length. It felt more like a three hour physics lecture than a story. (You remember “story”, don’t you?)Yes, of course the special effects were amazing. Let’s agree that effects are always amazing and be done with it. They no longer have any meaningful impact on the quality of a movie, any more than the fact that it’s in “full living color!”

For my money, the more important contributors to movie quality consist of things like the following: Consistent characters, cohesive story, and humility of length, all in short supply in Interstellar.

When the credits finally, mercifully rolled, I realized I’d forgotten it had been directed by Christoper Nolan, a man who specializes in BIG, at least since “Dark Knight”. So I hated the BIG movie, with its physics borrowed from Madeline L’Engle, interviews stolen from Ken Burns, and everything else taken from Stanley Kubrick.

And the venue? There’s nothing to like about Generic Cinema 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-∞.

LunaTktForget BIG. Let me tell you about the small venue. It’s called “Luna” and it’s found in a remodeled mill building, nestled in with a bunch of funky little (do you see a theme emerging?) shops. The audience sits in easy chairs with tables nearby on which to put snacks and drinks. None of the seats are half a mile from the screen from which the movie is just a rumor. Even the tickets at Luna are cooler than the the ones at Generic Cinema 1-2-3-4-5-∞. See what I mean? →


Take a seat, any seat at all.


Luna in your living room.

Which looks like a more enjoyable way to see a movie?


The movie I saw at Luna was small. It was about people, not aliens – ideas, not bombs – real places, not CGI landscapes. Most movies happen to you. I like a movie I can settle into. There’s a place for both in the world, but not in Generic Cinema 1-2-3-4-5-∞.

I don’t think there’s a place for me there either.

* Publicly criticizing a Christopher Nolan movie, I’ve come to find out, can be hazardous to your health. When I made disparaging comments about “Inception” in this post, I was taken to task with a profanity-laced harangue from someone who must have a degree in Missing the Point. I expect to hear from the same guy this time, with his master’s thesis in Cluelessness.

World Toilet Day

WTDhurryHere’s a joke that’s not funny:

Q: How can you tell a developing nation from a first world nation?

A: First world nations flush drinking water down their toilets.

Another thing that sounds funny but is deadly serious is World Toilet Day, today November 19. A family member first told me about WTD and I’m glad he did.

Now that you know, too, you can no longer plead ignorance. You must chose: Be part of the solution or part of the problem.

Here’s some great background on the day, courtesy of the Gates Foundation. For more details just Google “World Toilet Day”.


[I posted this on my other blog (Limping in the Light) too, because it’s that important.]

Creative communities

communityI’m all about community. I crave being part of a community, I flourish in the context of community, and I love building communities. It doesn’t matter what the little society is built around – church, MS, philanthropy, sports, the arts, or pure recreation. Where two or more are gathered, there I want to be in the midst of them. That’s why I speak and write so often (like here and here and a lot of places in between) about the value of support groups for those with MS.

So today I felt like writing about communities. This blog being centered on writing and film, it’s creative/artistic communities that are on my mind.

If I can break it down a bit, I see two flavors of such communities. The first would include temporary gatherings for specific purposes: individual plays, films, concerts, and recordings, for example. My experience participating in such efforts has invariably proven to be fun, exhilarating, and inspiring… for a while. There’s a sort of “postpartum” depression that often sets in when they end, as they always must.

No matter how brief, I wouldn’t want to miss those opportunities for the world. Whether singing in a choir or acting with a troupe, there’s nothing like being part of a collective creative consciousness all aimed in the same artistic direction. To get a glimpse into that world, read the book I wrote about in this post.

As you might have guessed, the second type of creative community is a long term one. They last for years, lifetimes, or generations. Members of these collectives pour their creative energies and encouragement into one another thus enhancing their work and their lives. Some are formal, others more a matter of proximity.

laurelcanyonThe folkies of 50’s Greenwich village were a hotbed of creative (and cultural and political) growth. In the 60’s, the Motown area gave rise to R&B and Haight-Ashbury nurtured the roots of modern rock’n’roll. Those communities were responsible for seismic shifts in culture. Though not considered MIPartistic, Silicon Valley was for a time as creative a community as the world has seen. Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, portrayed so effectively in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”, was an intentional community that hosted some of the century’s most celebrated artists and writers.

After all, what is a band, an orchestra, or an architectural firm but a community of creatives? These gatherings are so much more creative and productive than the individuals involved could ever be. I feel confident in asserting that the community known as The Beatles was far greater than the sum of its parts.

Those kinds of groups always seem to eventually fall victim to bloated egos, tempestuous personalities, and conflicting agendas. That’s part of the baggage of the stereotypical artistic personality. Which is probably why artists of all stripes tend toward isolation.

inklingsMy personal icon of a literary community is the Inklings of Oxford, UK. The most prominent members of this discussion group were J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – not sure if using one’s initials was a prerequisite to membership. What I would give to hang around at the Eagle and Child Pub with these guys discussing their latest work and ideas. I’d be lost, of course, but humiliation is a price I’d gladly pay.

Inklings meeting room, Eagle and Child Pub, OxfordSeveral years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Oxford, dining at the Bird and Baby, as its customers often called it, and also hearing a lecture on Tolkien in the adjoining building. I was staying in a house on the same street in Headington where Tolkien once lived, driven to the talk by a gentleman who had been a friend of the Tolkien family, accompanied by the caretaker of the Kilns, Lewis’s home. I’ve never had a more fulfilling, if thoroughly vicarious, literary experience.

I’m not sure why this was on my mind. I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in one of those long-term artistic communities, although the prospect is appealing. The funny thing is that writers are notorious loners and introverts, which would fight against any impulse to be part of a larger group. For many, the value must win out over the personal reticence.

Gotta go. I’m running late for a meeting of one of my collection of communities.

Relaxing in Lewis's study. Where's Jack?

Relaxing in Lewis’s study.
Where’s Jack?

Man of the tombs (rerun)

Two years ago almost to the day, I wrote a little story about a man who had a confrontation with Jesus. We don’t know his real name. He is known by what possessed him. I post it again here for a few reasons. First, life is hectic and I need the break. Second, it’s a bit of original writing that, although it first appeared in my other blog, Limping in the Light, finds its more proper place here. Third, with Black Friday approaching, one message I found behind the story takes on greater urgency. I’ll explain in the “afterword” below.


manofthetombsI was free until he came into my life.

I could come and go as I pleased and no one could prevent me.  Believe me, they tried.  Crowds of men would come and try to hold me down, as many as ten men at once.  They seized my arms and legs, leaped on my chest, locked their arms around my neck, thinking they could choke the life out of me.  I threw them aside as effortlessly as a fisherman tosses his nets out over the nearby Sea of Galilee.  Back then, I had the strength of thirty, forty, fifty men.

Sometimes, just to taunt my assailants, I would let them bind me.  I feigned struggle as they wound the chains around my chest, legs, and arms then clamped my ankles in irons.  When they were done and stood back, finally satisfied that they had subdued me, I stared at them with all the spite that was in my soul and shook off the shackles as if they were made of parchment.  My would-be captors ran off in panic.

They were afraid of me.  My strength frightened them.  My freedom threatened them.  They wanted nothing to do with me and that was the way I wanted it, too.  Their fear simply fueled my hatred for them and their common, contemptible lives.

I didn’t want to be anywhere near the people of the Decapolis – my home! – so I raced up and down the hills with abandon, howling my independence by day and night.  But most of the time I ran free among the tombs.  The dead didn’t bother me; they didn’t try to deny me my freedom.

One day, I found myself trembling.

Rumors of a fresh power sailed across the water before the boats driven by the winds over Galilee.  When they reached me, I was conflicted within.  Gazing over the waters from the top of a distant hill, I saw a man standing in a boat.  He stepped out and stood in the lapping water as if he was waiting for something.

He was waiting for me.

Like never before, I was driven to him.  Nothing and no one had ever compelled me like this man who was still merely a distant image.  Yet there was an opposing force inside me that was tearing at me to hold back.

What was this feeling?  The freedom that defined me now eluded me, replaced by an unnamed conflict within.  I could do nothing; I had no will.  Before I was aware of my own actions, I was at the feet of the stranger.  He spoke something in my direction, but it could not have been meant for me.  I didn’t understand his words.

Someone shouted a response in an acrid voice, or rather a chorus of voices that sounded like a mob all screeching at once.  “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  In God’s name don’t torture me!”

The sound came from my mouth.  I felt as if I was standing aside, watching the freakish scene play out before me.  The man the voices called Jesus asked, “What is your name?”  Before I could respond, the voices answered him.  I shuddered as I heard the wretched multitude of tongues growl “My name is Legion, for we are many.”

The voices terrified me, but they were the voices I knew.  It was my voice that spoke next the words that were a betrayal of myself, though I no longer knew who I was.  “Don’t send them away, Jesus.”  Maybe I was trying to convince myself because I repeated it over and over.

There was pity in Jesus’ eyes as he watched me writhing on the ground.  The Legion I feared and needed spoke from my depths, begging Jesus to send them into a herd of pigs that had been my only neighbors when I wandered these hills.  Jesus bade them go and they destroyed those pigs just as they had laid waste to my life all those years.

The citizens who wanted nothing to do with this wild man who ran naked among the tombs made it clear that they wanted less to do with my savior.  When they came out to drive Jesus away from their homes, they found me seated at the feet of Jesus, where I’d belonged all my life.  No matter where I would go, I would forever be his.

I was free indeed.

There is a literal meaning to this story, a tale of one man’s spiritual bondage and redemption. But, as with so much of scripture, there is a lesson for all of us, too. You can read my explanation of that lesson here in the post that followed this one in LITL. I commend it to your attention.

The Squatter

Among the many things I’ve scribbled in the sand is a novel entitled “The Squatter”. Some folks to whom I’ve confided about the book aren’t crazy about the title. I find it hard to disagree. It’s not a very pleasant sounding word. However, it effectively and succinctly captures not only the protagonist, but her situation as well. Anyway, I’m sticking with it for now, but am open to negotiations, especially from editors and publishers.

This is all to preface the following post, which is the opening few paragraphs of the book. There’s danger, some might say, in exposing one’s writing (even as brief as this) this way. They would have us all believe that creative thieves lurk around every corner of the Internet. They could be right, but cowering in fear is no way to live. My protagonist, Fania, would say the same.

Chapter 1

January 12, 2010 – 4:45 PM

Anticipation hung in the house like the fine particles of dust that filled the air. The family had long since grown accustomed to seeing the air they breathed; the constant presence of the dust made it disappear. When something is everywhere, it ceases to exist.

But apprehension, anticipation’s malicious twin, followed like a rabid dog nipping at its heels. Good fortune never walked alone in Haiti. Hopeful elections carried with them violence and turmoil. A cool, refreshing rain inevitably brought streams of filth running through the tiny hovel that was the Dieusel family home. It had reached the point where they dreaded good news for the trouble it promised.

Still, Fania hoped. Her dreams were simple for a fifteen-year-old girl. An education. Reading and writing. Humble dreams, more remote than the far off peaks of the Massif de la Selle. Just as she couldn’t see those mountaintops from her home in the Village Solidarité neighborhood of Port-au-Prince unless she climbed to the roof, she couldn’t conceive of being in a school, reading books, or writing letters.

This was the day when all that could change. The news her father carried would determine whether those mountains would be brought within her reach or, if his news was bad, she would continue to dream of distant peaks.