Meditation Discoveries

Okay, so this one isn’t about Scifi or books or writing. It is about this crazy practice of meditation. I started about a year ago and was extremely skeptical, but I swear by meditation now. It changed my life.

“Alejandro, there’s no need to exaggerate,” you say. “You’re not earning street cred by saying that meditation is a game changer.”

But yes! I shall insist that meditation is something more Americans need to do. Think of turning off that internal voice for just a second. Your boss, your mom (dead or alive), your friends- all those voices inside your head go silent for a 20 minutes while you sit in one place.

Just sit and breathe. Focus on your breath. Sounds easy enough, huh? It is actually one of the hardest things just getting yourself to sit down and calm yourself. It is in fact one of the hardest things. Who knew?!

But once you do, you hear the noise and chatter in your head, most of which isn’t even you consciously thinking. It just cycles in and out, out and in. Your boss: “You better finish that deliverable.” Your dog barks, “Woof, woof.” And it just seems like a tangled mess that’s beyond your control.

There is a moment though, at about 10 minutes, when those voices melt away. At that point, you are free. And this is where the paradox of meditation lies: it frees you from yourself. It lets you be just breath and life without our monkey brain. It lets you be.

For all our love of identity and its integral part in literature and love, the fact is that any identity, no matter how puny, has its share of burdens. In a strange way, being a son or a father or a grandpa is both a blessing and a curse. As a son, I think, “I love my dad.” and two seconds later, “I hate my dad.” There are worries and constant shiftings that are beyond our understanding. Maybe an indigestible Kit-Kat sits in your tummy and just gives you the most terrible thoughts about yourself and your weight (identity crisis, anyone?) Or maybe you’re an aspiring writer (ahem). You love it but it also burdens you with worry: “What if this isn’t good? That paragraph surely isn’t.”

Meditation, for a brief moment, eradicates those worries because it eradicates the identity. You aren’t really anyone when you are just breath. You are just life. You are moving stillness, like the vacuum of space. That is the miracle of meditation, my form of prayer to the universe.

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Scenes with a dog in the fog

I sit in my cold, wintery room in DC and think about Philip K. Dick and his craziness, about alternate realities just like the lateral ones he spoke about in his essays, about the Pre-socratics and their obsession with the element that unified everything…

But I also think about writing and its beauty. I sit with a pile of papers from the manuscript TREE WARS, thinking that it’s mostly trash. But in reading that trash, I have made an astonishing discovery- that the third person is just as malleable as the first. Take the following scene:

“A man walks a dog through the DC streets in the fog.”

Seems easy enough and looks like a normal third person scenario.

Now add some flavor:

“A man pulled the mutt’s leash through the wintry fog.”

Now add some feeling:

“A man dragged the mutt forward in the fog. It was his girlfriend’s dog that she had abandoned with him before she drove her car to California. It was a lousy mutt that resembled a dirty back sponge.”

Granted, the last one has more detail, it also starts to shape a character and voice.

As I read some of my first attempts at third person voice, I am reminded that there are ways to dig deep into the character’s state of mind without explicitly mentioning feeling. It is a beautiful world- the one of words.

 

 

The Living and the Dead, Book Review

Want to know where Hitchcock got his idea for VERTIGO? It turns out a tiny French crime novel called THE LIVING AND THE DEAD by Boilea-Narcejac inspired the film. I picked this one up from a random French bookstore in Boston not knowing that it was the inspiration for Hitchcock’s strange film about double or triple identities. If you don’t know the story, it’s about a detective that is hired to follow a  rich businessman’s wife Madeleine. She commits suicide to his dismay. He disappears while the cops investigate only to discover a woman that resembles Madeleine. But isn’t she dead? Is the detective crazy?

The book is well written and has good pacing. Its main problem is that it takes too long to develop the idea of double identity. Madeleine is followed because her husband thinks she is possessed or something is wrong with her. Then, she commits suicide. It isn’t until she reappears as a different woman that we understand what is occurring- someone is lying. Either the detective is crazy or Madeleine is still alive.

It is fitting that I should read a novel like this while visiting LA, land of masks and actors. I have often felt in large cities that we never truly see the faces of others on the streets. It is only in intimate spaces that people reveal who they are. That is why I like intimate interactions versus those with large groups of people. For example, I was sitting at a Starbucks reviewing my manuscript for TREE WARS and an older gentleman was sitting next to me. Let’s call him A. A had all the signs of being homeless- a scruffy, dirty blonde beard and torn clothing. Enter another sun-burnt man, much younger, B. B greets A as if they were longtime friends and says, “Namaste.” It turns out they are a part of a cult. They spend their time talking about Satan and Chakras and beer… Like I said, double and triple identities- the story of our lives.

 

Dystopian Megacities, LA Impressions

LA- it’s like a chocolate bar you hate eating but can’t help chomping into. The sun, the beach, the diversity, but also the smog and the cars and the traffic. “You get used to it,” says my friend as we approach lane upon lane of traffic.

I, the budding LA scientist hired by secret corporations in DC, performed a study today. I counted the total number of bicyclists in this sprawling megalopolis. How many? 4 bicycles and cheap ones you wouldn’t mind getting stolen. Gone are the sports bicycles of the San Fran hills. Gone are the bike lanes that keep us safe. Want to get around LA? Better have a car or you will wait for a lifetime for the bus.

“Let’s just throw streets arounds these hills,” said the founding fathers of LA, “let’s just make an oasis in this desert.”

And God gave us LA, and he said it was good enough. Don’t get me wrong. LA is full of sights and sounds. Where else are you going to find a record shop that specializes in punk and ska? Where else are you going to see Mexican burritos with real chorizo in them?

It feels like an American Mexico, with its long strips of concrete shops. It feels like the glamor is really just the dust and the grit of Raymond Chandler’s hills. It is a desert and one that is expensive and struggling to renew itself. Seattle is far more beautiful and bicycle friendly. Yes, it is the capital of entertainment. Yes, it is gritty and weird and cool.

It is a love hate relationship, not too unlike the one people have for NYC, the oasis for the East-coast masses. It is the dystopian future of a people that have refused to change their ways, like Chris Burden’s vision shown below:

1-Metropolis-II-2010-E

Tokyo Ghost, Issue 1 Review

A young man walks into a comic store in Baltimore and asks the owner,  an Asian lady with broad shoulders, what she would recommend for someone who is a fan of the cyberpunk genre. 

“I’m old school,” he says proudly, “I’m into Akira and Ghost in the Shell.” 

Her lip piercing gleams as a smile crosses her face. “You heard of Tokyo Ghost?” 

She walks away from the cash register counter toward the comic aisles, revealing a Pikachu tail pinned to her pants. She hands him a magazine whose cover shows a brawny man riding an Akira-style motorcycle. He reads it…

Tokyo Ghost hearkens back to the greats, like Akira and Transmetropolitan, and adds new spins to familiar things. Los Angeles is addicted to the web- thousands of shows stream on screens and bio-augmentation gives users super-hero bodies and rushes. Constable Debbie is trying to convince her husband Led to kick his addiction to technology. This lucha-libre style Led is always distracted by shows always playing on his screens covering his eyes (Ahem, Google Glass, I’m looking at you).

It is great and dark and scary. The comic genre is one I have followed for a while, watching as it has matured from the stereotypical super heroes (X-Men and Spiderman) to much darker iterations of those former forms.

Tokyo Ghost is certainly not for the faint hearted. It’s an adrenaline rush that mirrors its world addicted to violence and games. I am curious about the relationship between Debby, an anti-technology constable and her husband Led, an addicted muscular freak. If you’re a fan of Akira and Ghost in the Shell and Judge Dredd, it’s worth a read!

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Yes, the film is amazing. John Scalzi was right in saying that it feels like you’re seeing an ex-boyfriend and he has come out of rehab. Like Scalzi, I agree that it is not the best science fiction film of 2015 but is a good Star Wars Film.

I see one major strength in the film- its pacing. You were always being propelled forward with the film, always on your toes. While this made for lots of explosions, it also hindered your ability to absorb the world. My warm and fuzzy feelings were mostly out of nostalgia. I understood the world because I had seen the other movies but I felt that the movie did not do enough justice to its new characters. How did the First Order develop? What is their relation to the empire?

I almost wished the film had more quiet moments to story build. I was fascinated with the choice of protagonists yet felt they were hardly given time to reveal their characters amid the boom and pew pew of laser blasters.

I love Star Wars and enjoyed the film very much even if it was very reminiscent of previous films. There is a new weapon that seems very similar to the Death Star; the story of a young Jedi finding his powers and calling is repeated. All in all, I felt it was nostalgia stirring in me, not some profound sense of awe with the new film and its cinematography. I still would recommend this film for any fan of science fiction because the Star Wars world is so rich and satisfying. I suppose I’m just spoiled in expecting more out of story building, especially when compared to the level that can be attained through other mediums like novels. Here is a question: what science fiction movie do you think does a great job of story building and developing its characters?

Seattle Poem 2: “Salmon Fishing”

The river still runs at night

When the salmon sleep with eyes

Wide open. Their silvers flash

Amid the stones in the stream.

As I wander on the trail, I yearn

To have them in my hands.

I kneel and watch how still

They are in the cool rapids

Before plunging my hands into the depths.

Unsurprisingly, they slip away,

Which makes me wonder if

They were just illusions

I made in the moonlight.

The waters clear and shadows stretch

Where I thought I held

The fish for a moment.

The gloaming digs into me

As if I, too, were just a dream

That someone has tried to reach…