Reality Check Two

“I refuse to be intimidated by reality. What is reality anyway? Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.”

From “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin

In the book “Sacred Contracts,” author Caroline Myss describes the archetype of the Saboteur as the Guardian of Choice. The challenge of making a good choice is governed entirely by the clarity of our perception. If our perception is sabotaged by projection, prejudice, pride, fear, anger, distortion, insufficient information or insufficient reflection, the likelihood of making a wise and clear choice is severely diminished, hence: sabotaged.

I spent much of last Friday at the Norris Cancer Hospital at the University of Southern California. I had fasted from 8:30 AM in the morning in preparation for both a PET-Scan and a CT-Scan which were scheduled for 2:30 PM.

When I was ushered into her office, the lab technician and I recognized each other. She said, “I remember you.” Then, as she poked a needle in my arm in preparation for an IV line, she said, “We have to stop meeting like this.” I loved her for that.

As Joan Crawford once famously said, “This is not my first rodeo,” and yesterday was not my first scan. I’ve been getting them annually for several years.

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Calling Batman

NOTE: This post is not meant to be political or partisan. It’s intended to be patriotic and prophetic.

I try with varying degrees of failure to limit my intake of news. I subscribe to the New Yorker and to Time magazine (old habits die hard, I grew up with Time). I subscribe to the New York Times and the Washington Post on line. I try to listen impartially and open-mindedly, but not always successfully, to William Kristol and Rich Lowry of National Review. I watch Rachel Maddow and, from time to time, Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, and on Sunday mornings I watch Face the Nation on CBS and Meet the Press on NBC, and on occasion, George Stephanopoulos on This Week on ABC.

I think of my spiritual hero, Thomas Merton, and what he would have made of 24/7 news coverage—biased news coverage.

As a citizen, I think it’s my duty to be informed. As a human being I sometimes feel like a goose being force-fed by tubes in order to produce pate. At some point the news makes me nauseous. I know I’m not alone in this. Yet, as an, I hope responsible, citizen I can’t ignore the news entirely.

I didn’t post a blog last week because I overdosed on news and it left me with a rotten hangover.

I wonder if there is any correlation between the onslaught of 24 hour cable news and the opioid crisis. Do the farmers raising the geese ease their agony with painkillers?

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Homesick for Oakbrook

In the past six weeks I’ve seen two exceptional low-budget, independent films. Unless you live in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco, it’s unlikely that either will be showing at your local Cineplex. I’m sure they will be available soon enough on Netflix, Amazon Prime or On Demand. This is an okay way to see these films, but it’s not optimum. Both deserve to be seen with an audience, in the intimacy of a theatre, cell-phones and other electronic devices turned off and put away for the duration of the screening.

Each film stars an actor that I represented when I was a talent manager during the nineteen eighties. I have great affection for these two artists. I worked with them both when they were in their early thirties and their careers were just beginning to take off.  Now, three decades later they are in their early sixties and are currently doing their best work in years—maybe career best.

As I watched these movies, I was filled with a longing that I haven’t felt as strongly in some time. I didn’t long to be back into show business; I longed to be back in Oakbrook, IL at a CMED reunion so I could introduce these two marvelous films to my friends, colleagues and students, my CMED family.

If anyone has any ideas for another platform for doing film weekends, I am wide-open to suggestions.

I was at the Academy Awards when my former client, Willem Dafoe was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor in 1987 for his performance as Sergeant Elias in Platoon. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Willem’s performance is the soul of the movie. I feel comfortable saying this because I read several drafts of Oliver Stone’s screenplay and found it disturbing and largely lacking in humanity—that’s before I saw what Willem did with his role. There are not many (if any other) actors who can convincingly play Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ and Green Goblin in the Spiderman franchise.  This season Willem is featured in The Florida Project, far and away the best film I’ve seen this year. If any of you are struggling to get a clear handle on the archetype of the Guardian Angel on assignment (fulfilling his Sacred Contract) watch Willem’s performance. I expect him to get an Oscar nod again for this performance. I’m happy as a clam, however, to watch the ceremony at home and fast-forward through the commercials.

I returned to the Academy Award Ceremonies two years later in 1989 and was there to share in the celebration another former client, Geena Davis, received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Muriel Pritchett in The Accidental Tourist. In that film Geena embraced the Wounded Healer archetype expertly stripping away from it any fake sentimentality. If Willem’s performance is the soul of Platoon, Geena’s performance is the heart of The Accidental Tourist.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Geena in a movie. She’s on television occasionally but apparently devotes most of her energy to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Late this summer she returned to the big screen in a film called Marjorie Prime in which she costars with Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption). At the center of the film in the title role is veteran theatre actor Lois Smith reprising the role she originated on stage. You may not know her by name; her face is unforgettably beautiful.

Both The Florida Project and Marjorie Prime speak powerfully and prophetically to the bleak, alienated times we are currently experiencing. Both films are filled with compassion for the present malaise and, almost miraculously, hold out some hope.

The central metaphor for The Florida Project (the code name that the Disney company used while purchasing the real estate and designing Disney World) is a brilliant one. The entire film takes place in the seedy motels (the projects) of Kissimmee Florida, an impoverished and largely itinerant community adjacent to Orlando both a stone’s throw and a million miles away from the “happiest place earth.” A substantial number of the inhabitants are children crowded with their parents or grandparents and all of their possessions into motel rooms with a single queen-sized bed. Stacks of clothes are piled in laundry baskets—there’s no place to put them away. The trash bags that line the walls of the rooms are not filled with trash but with the sparse worldly goods of its denizens.  The residents live like refugees, taking with them only what they can carry or pack into a car if they are fortunate enough to have one. All the while America’s culture of consumption is fed back to them 24/7by the always turned-on television sets that cast a cool eerie light over the proceedings.

The central location of the film is the Magic Castle Motel. All of the motels on the strip have names that just barely avoid copyright infringement lawsuits by the Disney organization.

The paradise that is Disneyworld and its contrast with its downtrodden neighbors reminded me of Elysium (2013), a science fiction movie (or allegory) which starred Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Damon, like the citizens of Kissimmee is trying to crash paradise, while Foster is charged with denying him entrance. Elysium is an imperfect but highly watchable movie. Star power!

Bobby (Willem Dafoe) explaining motel rules to one of its more colorful guests

Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is the patient, kind, pretty much unflappable, manager of The Magic Castle which is an eye-punishing shade of purple. When Bobby is not mediating conflicts between residents or trying, without much success, to enforce the residency rules of the Magic Castle, he spends his time touching up the purple paint of the building.

The dominant colors of the film seem to be drawn from the old eight color Crayola box. The garish orange juice stand (a two-story orange with a face painted on it) perfectly captures the primary color palate of Binney and Smith, the founders of the Crayola company.

Against this backdrop the film focuses on the childhood adventures of a six year-old named Moonee and her two friends Jancey and Scooty.  Moonee lives at the Magic Castle with her single mother Halley, a multi-tattooed feral creature with green streaked hair (again Crayola) who herself seems barely out of her teens.

Moonee and her mother, Halley, in The Florida Project

Scooty, Moonee and Jancey in The Florida Project

The glory of the film is that these children, at least for the present, thrive in this environment. Their adventures and mischief making are endlessly inventive and often hilarious. Bobby seems always to watch over them. In one telling scene, Bobby spots a sexual predator moving in on these children. Bobby gently guides the predator away from the children until the kids are out of earshot and then brings down the wrath of hell on the would be perpetrator. Willem moves with the grace of a dancer; there is also something dangerous and unpredictable about him, and he employs these qualities majestically in this performance. With the exception of Dafoe all of the actors are amateurs. The performances that director Sean Baker elicits from them are astonishing—in particular those of Mooney (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite).

The film’s unexpected and exhilarating ending left me in awe of the resilience of children. I exited the theatre both shaking and smiling.

Jon Hamm and Lois Smith in Marjorie Prime

If The Florida Project is about the resilience of children, Marjorie Prime is about making peace with the unavoidable limitations of aging. It is a sly masterpiece of film making that explores our experiences of our parents, spouses and children both as they were and as we would like to remember them. It’s an almost contemplative meditation on the loneliness of loss and the longing for do-overs. I can’t describe the plot without spoiling its surprises, so I won’t. Most of the film takes place in one location, much of it shot in close-up. The performances offer a master class in the art of fearless and ego less acting. This film is as muted and subtle as The Florida Project is lurid and in your face and it is every bit as powerful. Make sure that you are wide awake and attentive when you watch this film; the shifts in tone and plot are subtle and seamless thanks to the skills and talents of director Michael Almeyreda.

The Divine Ms. Myss

I had never heard of Caroline Myss when I dropped by the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood CA in mid-June of 1997. The center of the new books display was devoted to Caroline’s latest book, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can. Since I had been diagnosed with cancer less than a week earlier, I thought it was worth investigating. I bought the audio cassettes and listened to them as I drove about Southern California meeting with radiologists, oncologists, nutritionists and others in an effort to discern the best treatment options for me. And there were lots of options.

A week later I returned to the Bodhi Tree and bought the audio cassettes for Caroline’s previous book, Anatomy of the Spirit and a recording called Spiritual Madness. I’ve listened to Spiritual Madness dozens of times over the years and it remains my favorite of all of her teachings.

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Mystery School: An Overview

In 1997, as word of my cancer diagnosis spread, the phrases, meant to be encouraging, that I heard most frequently were “You’ve got to fight this” or “you can beat the ‘Big C’”. (Thank you, John Wayne.) The problem is that I did not have then nor do I now have now more than trace amounts of warrior energy. But I tried. I tried really strict eating regimens, even macrobiotic (although not for long), and came to the conclusion that if this is how I was going to eat for the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to live.

I spared myself the suffering that comes with the question “Why me?” I’d gone through a different version of the question during the worst years of the AIDs epidemic when I found myself asking, “Why not me?” The best answer I could come up with is that God would never give me a disease that has an unexplained weight loss. I kept that conclusion a secret until I let it slip at a dinner with a couple of HIV-infected friends and they howled with laughter at the gallows humor.

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Turner Classic Movies – My Pharmacy of Choice

After spending the last two weeks writing about Appalachian poverty and the mediocrity of Paul Ryan, I was increasingly irritable and somewhat depressed.

So I’m turning this week to, what for me is, a fool-proof anti-depressant: Turner Classic Movies (link to schedule).  *To the best of my knowledge all of the recommended films are also available on DVD.

As I lost myself in the schedule of up-coming films my irritability and depression evaporated so I plan to use the last blog of each month to preview the best of TCM’s up-coming selections. There is such an abundance of great classic films each month that there isn’t enough room to write about them all—and I’ve seen them all, multiple times—really I have!  Several are easily worth an annual visit. In choosing the films for each month, I’ve chosen to go with the ones that may not be as well known.

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Making the Poor Visible

“Obamacare replacement hits Trump voters hard. Some of the biggest losers in Republican plan are in counties that supported him”

Headline in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 2017.

In the late 1990’s someone published a business motivational book called, “Who Stole My Cheese?” It remained on the NY Times best-seller list for almost five years.

My take away was that the difference between rats and people is this. There are five tunnels; only one of them has cheese. Both rats and people will, soon, after discovering the tunnel with cheese, return to it repeatedly. However, if the cheese is moved from, say tunnel two to tunnel five, the rats will return to tunnel two a few times until they realize there is no longer any cheese down that tunnel. Then, the rats will begin to explore the other four tunnels until they find cheese. Human beings, on the other hand will go down tunnel two until they starve because it is the right tunnel.

I was reminded of this business fable several times as I read the NY Times best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture and Crisis by J. D. Vance. The book, which many critics have hailed as a key to understanding the “Trump voter,” follows Vance’s life through a harrowing boyhood and adolescence amongst his hillbilly relatives to his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps to his undergraduate studies at the University of Ohio until, finally, his graduation from the Yale University School of Law. His story is more than a little bit Dickensian.

The book is well-written, reportorial and compelling. It more than likely fulfills the criteria of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” I recommend it highly; like James Baldwin’s books it, too, is a guide for pilgrims who are willing to make the journey to an unfamiliar world. I underlined so many passages that it might be easier to pick out the passages that weren’t underlined.

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Archetypal America

In honor of the release of  the Archetypal America workshop recordings, I offer this post on one of my favorite films, Stagecoach. The course recordings can be purchased as a digital download here: https://gum.co/archetypalamerica

“The main American theme, I think, is freedom. It’s about individual freedom in opposition to or in tension with collective freedom.”  -Ken Burns, documentary film maker, “The Civil War”

Throughout American history the archetypes which populate our myths and legends and capture our imagination are the Rebel, the Revolutionary, the Liberator, the Scout, the Pioneer, the Cowboy, the Explorer, even the Outlaw: all of them perpetually moving forward in pursuit of their idea of freedom, both on behalf of the common good and at the expense of it. While many of these archetypes appear from the very beginnings of our history, the conflict between the various notions of freedom—personal and collective—solidified in the American psyche in the years leading up to and following the Civil War. They continue to impact us and our ideas of ourselves to this day. Few films capture these American themes and tensions as well as John Ford’s masterpiece, Stagecoach.

stage2

Stagecoach is high on my list of the 10 Best Movies of All Time. I’ve seen it at least 20 times, probably more. Without fail, something about it captures and holds with every viewing, so much so I save it on my DVR, along with Singin’ in the Rain and a few other films, so I can view them again whenever the mood strikes me.

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Guest Appearance: Archetypal Tarot Podcast

2015_ATP_Icon_Green_Twitter_ProfileI was thrilled to sit down with my good friend Julienne Givot and discuss archetypes, movies and more for her popular show, The Archetypal Tarot Podcast.  You can download the show for free on iTunes or listen online at the bottom of this page:

http://archetypaltarot.podbean.com/e/the-tower-embracing-the-grace-of-change/

A Conversation with Jim Curtan

This conversation is between Shane M. Nygaard and Jim Curtan on September 14, 2015, as part of the Minnesota Jung Association’s 2015-2016 season of event.

More information on Jim’s Workshop – Archetypal America October 23rd and 24th, 2015 in St. Paul, MN

SN:      Since you haven’t been in front of the Minnesota Jung Association (MJA) audience before, to help people get to know you a little before your visit, can you share a bit about your background?

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Life Beyond A Crisis: Uncovering the Secret Next Chapter of our Lives

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected, love and beauty at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

My first workshop of the year is sponsored by Stillpoint Center for Christian Spirituality and will be held at All Saints Church in Pasadena, one of the most beautiful venues in Southern California. I taught a workshop there last year about Pilgrimage using the film, The Way. We subsequently produced a self guided workshop based on that day long pilgrimage.

BEstI’m delighted to have been invited back for another workshop this year and I’ve chosen to focus on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Part of my inspiration for the course came from something a good friend said to me while we were having lunch about ten years ago. He was a few days shy of his 80th birthday and while we were sipping wine and waiting for our entrees to arrive he leaned in close to me and said, “You know the mid-life crisis? You have another one to look forward to.” I’ve never forgotten his remark and as I approach the half-way mark of my eighth decade, I’ve begun to watch for signs.

“When old words dies on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders. “
– Rabindranath Tagore

I believe that’s why the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been so popular with viewers—so unexpectedly popular, in fact, that a sequel is set to be released the first week in March. The film captures its main characters deep in the throes of this crisis. It’s most marked characteristic is the shocking revelation that their identities, the life narratives they’ve carefully crafted for themselves are way past their “sell-by” date and they find themselves confronted by the need to discover new meaning, new purpose for their lives.

I hope you will be able to join me. Please do share this information with your friends in the LA area or those who might want to escape the cold to enjoy some Southern California sunshine next month. There is even a Facebook Event created to make it easier to share with your friends.

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected and beauty and love at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

A Few of My Favorite Things (Gift Guide)

This time of year I like to be even more mindful that usual of all of the blessings in my life. And I am blessed with extraordinary friends. Some of these friends bless me doubly and triply because they are also my teachers. Each has a body of inspiring and provocative work and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you.

All of these would make great holiday gifts for others or you may hint to others you would like some of these for yourself.

CAROLINE MYSS

My wonderful friend, teacher and author, Caroline Myss has written many wonderful books but I especially love her recordings. Unless you’ve been at some of Caroline’s recording sessions, you may not know that she doesn’t read from a text. Although she prepares in SpiritualMadnessadvance, she speaks ex tempore. This gives immediacy and intimacy to the recordings that puts her right in the room with me.

I first discovered Caroline and her work when I was diagnosed with cancer and came across her recording of “Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can.” The wisdom in that recording has guided me through 17 years of cancer treatments.

My personal favorite of all of Caroline’s recordings is “Spiritual Madness.” I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to it, but I always find something new with every listening.

A wonderful companion to “Spiritual Madness” is the lesser known “Your Primal Nature.” It’s fascinating.

All of these are available at www.SoundsTrue.com and Amazon/Audible

MARK MATOUSEK

wyfd_lg1I’ve known Mark Matousek since he was sixteen years old and was around him a great deal until he went away to school. He chronicles this part of his life in “Sex, Death, Enlightenment” one of the finest spiritual memoirs I’ve ever read. The follow-up memoir, “The Boy He Left Behind,” avoids the sophomore slump of many writers, and is, if anything, even richer than the first book. I have a particular bias toward his book, “When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living,” because I’m interviewed in it and that the interview put me in the company of Joan Didion, David Steindl-Rast, Dr. Rachel Remen and Bill McKibben.

Mark is also an exceptional teacher. He regularly offers a six-week on-line course called “Writing As a Spiritual Practice” and he’s just released a seven-part audio course called “What’s Your Story.” To find out more about Mark and his work visit him at www.markmatousek.com

WILKIE AU

EnduringHeartWilkie Au is a spiritual director’s spiritual director. I can say this with certainty because I have been blessed to have Wilkie as my spiritual director for over fifteen years. Alone, and with his wife, Jungian analyst and spiritual director, Noreen Cannon Au, Wilkie has written a quintet of invaluable spiritual guides, each of which focuses on a specific quality of developing a richer spiritual life and practice. If you are unfamiliar with their work, the two books I most recommend are “The Enduring Heart: Spirituality for the Long Haul” and “The Grateful Heart.” The former is a reassuring reminder that the essence of spiritual life is, like marriage, relationship. The latter is an activist’s handbook for living a life rooted in and committed to gratitude. For more information visit: http://wilkieandnoreenau.com/

ELLEN GUNTER

Earth-Calling-book-coverEllen Gunter is a woman on fire. She’s a prophet and gadfly. Her book, “Earth Calling” is an impassioned education and wake-up call about the multiple environmental crises that threaten the planet. What sets her book apart is that on every page you are reminded how much Ellen loves the earth. This book isn’t just good science, it’s a love letter. The book is available on Amazon.

RICHARD ROHR

Father Richard Rohr, OFM, is so prolific, it’s hard to settle on just a few recommendations. If you are unfamiliar with his work his three volumes of daily meditations—excerpts drawn from his books, articles, sermons and workshops—are like mini-anthologies which are wonderful in YesAndthemselves or may guide you toward one or another of his complete works. The three anthologies are “Radical Grace,” “Yes . . .And,” and “On the Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men.”

Among Father Richard’s audios, I particularly like “True Self, False Self” and “Great Themes of Paul” (Richard’s series on Paul provides compelling evidence that Paul is a great mystic whose writings have  interpreted literally and damagingly. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I fell in love with the St. Paul revealed in these recordings. www.cac.org

JAMES FINLEY

James Finley was one of my teachers when I was  training to be a spiritual director and ContemplativeHeartbecame a colleague when we taught together at CMED.* I don’t know that there is any substitute for encountering James Finley in person. If you ever have the chance to spend a day, a weekend or a week in his company, sign up immediately. To find out about his retreat schedule check his website: http://contemplativeway.org/ . His book “Merton and the Palace of Nowhere” is a contemporary classic and essential reading for anyone interested in a deeper understanding of Thomas Merton’s teaching. James has collaborated on audio books and recorded seminars with both Caroline Myss and Richard Rohr. You can find them at either www.soundstrue.org or www.cac.org  Ally of them provide rich material for reflection and contemplation.

Happy Reading! Happy Listening!

Love,

Jim

Archetypes and a Movie Poll

Many of you have already enjoyed the first edition of my ‘Archetypes and a Movie’ series: Ratatouille:  Fate, Destiny & the Hero’s Journey.  We are in the process of planning the next workshop and would love your feedback on what you would most like to see and learn from.

The theme of “pilgrimage” has been coming up quite a bit lately and pilgrimages can take many forms.  While you don’t literally need to travel to go on a pilgrimage, it’s always a journey to the Sacred.  The word pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) means a traveler, literally one who has come from afar.

Each of these films are an exploration of the archetype of the pilgrimage. We’d like to know which one you would most like to experience as an audio workshop.

Please take a few seconds to complete the 3 poll questions below.

Many thanks,
Jim and Julienne

Film Choices for a course on Pilgrimage

The Way (2010) TheWay_2staring Martin Sheendarjeeling_limited

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) staring Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith & Tom Wilkinson

The Darjeeling Limited (2007) staring Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson & Jason Schwartzman

Philomena_posterPhilomena (2013)BEst staring Judi Dench & Steve Coogan

 

You can also use the comments below to suggest a film not on this list and tell us why you’d like to learn from it.