I was glad to see Joaquin Phoenix win an Oscar for JOKER and Renee Zellweger win one for JUDY. Both were well-deserved for the incredible transformation they each made in their leading roles. However, I was disappointed that Tom Hanks did not win Best Supporting Actor for A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. He was powerfully, touchingly transformed as Mr. Rogers. Brad Pitt, who competently played a comparatively far less dynamic character in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, garnered a clearly undeserved win next to Hanks. The Academy has long been so uneven and peculiar in its awarding choices.
I grew up watching a lot of old movies and TV shows (reruns by the time I was viewing them) in which a recurring scene was that of a man slapping an upset woman to calm her down, bring her back into a more rational state of mind. It was the quick formula solution to stop her from being “ruled by her emotions.” This always felt upsetting, confusing, and deeply wrong to me. Fortunately, I never saw my dad do this at home to Mom, or other friends or family members act this way with their close women loved ones. Anyway, as a child, I felt such a dissonance, that of being deeply disturbed by this violent act against a grown woman on one hand while somehow wanting to trust that the adults– in this case, the men– new best what to do in this particular dynamic. It is interesting how I don’t remember men getting slapped by women in response to expressing strong emotions. The stereotype and expectation was that men aren’t “overly” emotional like women. And when and if they are, they must be promptly straightened out. Some man would sometimes slap another in some screen drama to “shape him up,” but this seemed rarer. I do remember a scene in STAR TREK TOS, whereby Captain Kirk repeatedly slaps Spock, when that latter is in a particularly sad, shame-filled state. That felt wrong too and very dissonant with the bonding moment that was supposed to be underscored between these two life-long close friends in such a pioneering TV show. But then bonding through violence never made clear sense to me. I always thought intimacy was about honoring emotional expression, so long as it’s not abusive/harmful, towards developing a sense of closeness with another.
The media has such a way of perpetuating and shaping stereotypical behavior, including such awful, wrong gender biases. There is an old, rigid arc of emotional expression patterns so many movies and television shows would perpetuate and which I’ve had to detoxify from during my adulthood. Seeing women getting slapped by supposedly well-meaning men is one of those particular image arcs I’ve had to get over. Thank the gods society at large finally no longer tolerates portraying such ugliness in moving pictures as a matter of course. That kind of imagery alone was and is blatant validation of violence against women and against those who “act like” women, i.e., show their emotions in response to feeling vulnerable– be through states of fear, shame, sadness, anger, etc.
In America, we still have a long ways to go as a culture with treating women, non-binary folks, and *explicitly* expressive sensitive men with care and respect in the face of strong emotions. But, there has been progress, thank goodness. The apparent fading away of routine slaps in the face to mostly women and some men “acting like women” in newer movies and television shows (made roughly within the last forty years or so) is an encouraging marker to this being the case.
As a person, I am many roles and attributes– husband, brother, son, friend, psychotherapist, gay man, eclectic Pagan, movie lover, writer, sensitive, empathetic, introspective, caring, imaginative, sometimes overly-critical, and many more things. What I also am, though it is not a central identity for me, is someone who survived a relatively/moderately traumatic childhood. (So many people have survived their childhoods, which is nothing to necessarily brag about– though one can if they wish– or be ashamed of. Probably each and every one of us can say we survived at least something during childhood.) This included divorce of my parents before I was five and much uncertainty thereafter, due, in part, to frequent moves and having to adjust to several new schools and living situations.
Shortly after my parents’ divorce, my birth mother gave me up to my father and his second wife, having found herself, through no real fault of her own, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to be a single parent. I’m also convinced she was hoping I would be a duplicate of her older brother, who she idealized while watching him fill in as surrogate spouse to their mother, my grandfather largely away from home as a career Marine during much of her childhood. What my mother got with me, however, was something very different than my stoic yet caring uncle. She didn’t quite know what to make of me when I left toddlerhood. My emotional sensitivity and fascination with her high heeled shoes, long hair, and makeup made her uncomfortable.
Other unpleasant to even very painful difficulties arose after this initial trauma of divorce and later what I experienced as abandonment by my birth mother. However, simultaneously, I was also thrilled to finally go live with my father and the woman I would soon call “Mom.” Being a sensitive gay child on the non-binary spectrum (in my case, identification with feeling partially, but significantly female in a physically male body) became an added challenge. Most of the community I grew up around was quite intolerant of such differences. I was bullied throughout much of school, especially during sixth through eighth grades. I inherited a propensity for an anxious, highly reactive temperament. This, combined with my early personal history, resulted in some pretty serious anxiety (both generalized and OCD) and long bouts of depression throughout adolescence and much of my adulthood. Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered from PTSD as a child and adolescent as I lived through deep relational disruptions and repeatedly perceived threats to my safety, with a good share of these perceptions based on actual reality.
After many years of effective psychotherapy, particularly a combination of Internal Family Systems work and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and increasingly mindful living, I’m glad to say that I haven’t experienced any clinical depression for almost nine years. I have been fortunate to not require sustained use of prescribed medication, although I did go through some short trials of assorted antidepressants (with misery-inducing side effects resulting each and every time) and long-term use of a benzodiazapine (Klonopin) for the anxiety. However, I was even able to give that drug up completely about seven years ago. Being free of the need for any prescriptions has been a relief, yet I also honor and understand those who find help in maintaining a regimen of psychopharmacological meds. We all must try and do whatever is necessary for our well-being.
The chronic, generalized anxiety and OCD will always be what I contend with to some degree. They are part of my body’s lot in life right along with some other health vulnerabilities, such as high cholesterol and skin that occasionally produces melanomas (only two thus far in twenty-seven years, both in situ/stage one, thank the gods) requiring prompt medical attention. But, my OCD has lessened in intensity enormously, having last been seriously bad for an extended period when I was fifteen years of age. I realize now that the OCD was intensified at the time by assorted stressors, including a reaction to an accumulation of traumas. Now, it’s something I chuckle about and bond with others over as they describe to me the unique little quirks of their own OCD. As for the generalized anxiety, I think it’s debatable whether I actually clinically suffer from it any longer. My day-to-day intense, chronic worrying has largely decreased. Ten years ago, I wasn’t certain I’d ever reach this level of inner peace I feel today. Mind you, I still have quite a ways to go on that front. Finding and living within inner peace most or all of the time is a lifelong effort for so many of us, perhaps even for most save for a very few (like the Dalai Lama, among others). My nature being what it is, I’m still to a certain extent what others would call “high strung.” That and growing up with having to cope with frequent disruptions to my sense of security as a child, I’ll likely always tend towards initially catastrophizing in the face of change or new difficulties. But, I am able to more quickly step away from such negative thinking and feeling, instead of getting stuck and bogged down in it so often like I used to do. I’m confident I function within the average range of the general population when it comes to dealing with uncertainty and life changes, with me being somewhere in “normal range” on the broad bell curve, for what that’s worth. For certain, I’ll never be fully “normal,” whatever the hell that even actually means. Mentally healthy and adjusted, on the other hand, well, I am definitely more that than not and it’s wonderful.
These days, it’s been about maintaining all the healing I’ve done for my psyche/inner system of parts while continuing to release some remaining deep-down pain from my past as I live more and more freely in the present. I’ve manifested most of my life dreams I started having as a young teenager, namely that of having a psychotherapy career, owning my own home in a pleasant neighborhood, and being married to a fabulous, loving man. I continue to live them each day, for however long I’m meant to do so. All I, and we, really have is now. I enjoy building from the wondrous now.
I’m starting to live into another big dream of mine. This simply is to commit to writing more often than not and see wherever that takes me next in this incredible journey called life. If I publish anything I produce, that will be a cherry on the sundae at this point. At least I’m writing and some people are reading it here on my blog, which I’ll do my best to have exist long after I’m gone.
A fact is, we all had, and have, our unique challenges in life, including, for a lot of us, mental health challenges, and often very serious ones. These are nothing to be ashamed of any more than the plethora of medical problems people live with and can finally freely admit to having more often than not– at least compared to when I was younger and when my parents were children. Being human is to be born into a body and mind with so many vulnerabilities and difficulties, arising from enduring tough environments, genetics, the inevitability of aging or some combination thereof. It’s our resiliency, including deep capacity to heal, that gets us through and never ever ceases to amaze me, both that of others and in myself. And it’s in mindfully sharing who we are, how far we’ve come, and whatever we are going through– good, bad, indifferent– that affirms what being alive is all about: connection. Connection– bit by bit– in ourselves to who we are and trusting that is enough. Connection with others and their wonderful, good enough selves, no matter how wounded in body or mind, so long as one’s wounds allow for genuine connection to come through, however limited initially. And, of course, connection with the rest of the world around us, nature, the All.
I used to think I was basically just my wounds and was worthy of so little, anxiously, shamefully, and sadly hiding away from a lot of life. But, I see now how we need not be defined by our wounds or imperfections, none of us. (And those who seem to intractably, pervasively live and act out from just their pain are, well, ultimately the most challenged, but I refuse to give up all hope on even them.) However, out of our efforts to heal from these injuries and foibles, we can find opportunities to derive wisdom and access to more compassion and other virtues, both for ourselves and others. This healing includes releasing shame, particularly the shame of assorted false beliefs that boil down to the thought we somehow only are our wounds or perceived flaws, victims of our worst experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth. As psychologist Richard Schwartz has written extensively about, what we actually are at our core essence, or Self, consists of calmness, courage, creativity, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, and connectedness. And that makes it all the worthwhile to share in this journey called life, finding out, while doing so, that we are all– not just us, alone– imperfect in body and mind but uniquely wonderful, lovable Selves anyway, and always were.
I’ve been fascinated with movies since I was a young child. I’d be the one in 2nd grade at school watching a film all the way through, with rapt attention, while peers around me had long become bored and restless.
Having always loved this form of mass entertainment, there are different genres I don’t care to watch, such as combat-oriented war movies, which I used to tolerate viewing now and then when I was younger. I do occasionally enjoy a well-done war-time film that focuses on dynamics away from the actual battlefield. SCHINDLER’S LIST comes to mind here.
As with combat war movies, the same goes for Westerns with me. I’ve probably truly enjoyed no more than I can count on both hands, possibly only on one, and just when I was much younger. The cinema in general was still so novel an experience until roughly around my early 30s. Since then, it’s taken more for a movie to feel novel and, hence, interesting enough for me to want to see it. The old American frontier is a huge mythology of wonder for a lot of folks, particularly, it seems, for those older than myself, though many males in my age group also appreciate that world. But, it’s one to which I honestly can’t relate. All the gun-related violence and accompanying machismo turns me off. My being gay and not fully gender binary factors into this, I admit. I’m immediately an outsider to this onscreen universe. Even so, ultimately that genre tends to glorify the gun via having it be the central means of power and conquest, so tiresomely destructive in a raw, ugly way. We’re seeing these days what gun worship does in our culture. I also have no interest in spending my precious free time filling my physical vision and brain with more toxic masculinity. I already have to navigate it somewhat in my day-to-day life as it is. A certain very troubled man in power comes to mind. No thanks.
As an extension of Westerns, the modern, male-focused action films (including police-oriented ones) largely elicit the same response from me. They come across as Westerns placed in current times. The one exception and admitted guilty pleasure of this category I do watch are the James Bond films (*ducking for cover now from possible judgment by certain readers*). They are fantastical enough that they cross over into fantasy instead of just hard core action. That said, I’ve always viewed them with a mix of emotions, disliking their awful sexism and some of their violence. And the latest James Bond (Daniel Craig, himself a talented actor) is too much of a muscle-pumped brute for my taste. Gone is the suavity of Connery and Moore, the latter being so refreshingly funny, and the Bond I came of age watching. It is encouraging to hear that the next James Bond after Craig retires from one more upcoming film will be a female. Such a change is long overdue.
There is a rare exception I make for the martial arts sub-genre of action cinema: the small canon of Bruce Lee films. As I’ve written elsewhere, I watch him for his beautiful form and dance, which come across to me as artful and fantastical. Lee transcended the genre he worked within and I don’t know if anyone will ever accomplish what he did as a performer. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON comes close, though that was all due to beautiful cinematography and costumes, interesting special effects, a good storyline, and competent acting. No single actor embodied the main energy or center of the world in that film like Lee did in his projects. And I have no interest whatsoever in watching what seems like overly-stimuli packed modern martial arts films. I find them too fast, busy, and even noisy. (Same goes for me with Anime in general, though I have enjoyed a few earlier produced exceptions, such as 1983’s BAREFOOT GEN.) Any graceful martial artist seems to get lost for me among all the mishegas of such pointless on-screen distraction.
I’ve rarely enjoyed violent horror films, particularly slasher ones, which, on the whole, I’ve never liked. The rare, well-done sci-fi fantasy horror productions, such as the first two and the fourth ALIEN movies, are watchable for their beautiful, dark aesthetics alone. But, then, I’ve always appreciated monster movies, which can artfully externalize the shadow sides of the human psyche, including our deepest fears and inner rage that all of us have surely felt in life as an initial, primal response to adversity.
I will sometimes take time to see early period dramas, depending on the historical period portrayed. Good acting and beautiful costumes also help me decide with what to watch in this category. However, if a lot of violent war scenes predominate in such productions, I tend to hesitate with consuming them. I’m not fascinated by war as I was somewhat when I was young. The less people at large give mind space to war, the more it will fade away as an overly repeated option to solving social and political problems. I’m simply committed to de-intensifying war images in my psyche as best I can because it feels like the right thing to do. Real life and non-movie media emphasize war to fill a lifetime, and then some, as it is. Still, I acknowledge the titillation war images elicit for so much of the public, including consuming them in their movie watching. Sigh.
Romantic and screwball comedies I enjoy on occasion, but they simply are far less compelling and interesting to me than the usually more imaginative, cinematic science fiction, fantasy, and, to a lesser extent, action adventure (e.g., James Bond) shows. Since I tend to see movies with the intention of being transported somewhere and inspired from aspects of my day-to-day life, I naturally gravitate towards these other-worldly performances.
I’ll sometimes see suspense and mystery movies if the storyline is intriguing enough and stars actors who I particularly admire. My imagination has to be captured by such projects, and that is hit or miss with this genre. It’s simply a cinema universe that doesn’t consistently interest me as much as the comparably more flexible fantasy and science fiction ‘verses do.
I used to enjoy many animation features, including most of the Disney ones. I still have yet to see some of those older productions, which I intend to in time. The Disney and Pixar cartoons from the last twenty years or so often annoy me with their puerile humor, which I’ve simply outgrown. Still, some are heart-felt, enjoyable, and imaginative all at once, such as WALL-E and ZOOTOPIA. What I personally experience as a loss in these computerized productions is the natural and subtly rough, unpolished aesthetic that hand-painted animation conveyed from earlier times. That look is more life-life compared to the overly clean appearance of these newer images on screen. The latter convey a certain mild sterility about them that keep me at a distance, ever reminded that I’m watching a movie.
Of worthy mention here are biographical movies. When done well, and if the subject is of interest to me (such as old-time movie stars and/or singers), these screen gems encapsulate the basic, beautiful essence of a fascinating, compelling life, this being yet another window into a very different world than my own.
Then, there’s the often quirky, off-beat indie art films. They are also hit or miss for me, but often hits. I’ll always have head room to view those, though time and convenience often don’t allow seeing as many of these as I’d like. There is no nearby theater where I live that regularly shows many indie (including foreign films) and arthouse productions, let alone for more than a day or two. Same goes for old-time classics, of which there’s a plethora that I treasure. Fortunately, in earlier years, I lived near movie houses that showed a lot of indie, art, and classic films, which I took advantage of. I’ll always be grateful for that. I’ve also viewed a lot of great oldies and indies on video, DVD, and YouTube over the years, and will continue to do so via the latter two means and, perhaps, streaming someday as well. But, none of these options quite replace the all-encompassing large screen medium I enjoy most for fully experiencing a movie.
I haven’t exhaustively covered all of the extant movie genres and sub-genres, the latter of which there are so many, including those that don’t quite fit into any particular category. But, I’ve discussed the ones that especially come to mind for me within such an often magical form of media. In this time of home convenience where small screen streaming is the zeitgeist for the masses, long live my first love of entertainment: the classy big, silver screen.
When I met the man who would later become my husband, I loved him right away. I was instantly able to feel and see his angelic/Buddha/bodhisattva/Christ-like/true Self nature and accept the deep blessing of sharing the rest of my life with him.
I have spent my lifetime trying to see and engage with the true Self/higher/Christ-like/angelic/Buddha nature in everyone around me. Initially, I did not realize this was what I was doing. It has been in turns for me adventurous, surprising, awkward, rough, wonderful, enraging, disappointing, educating, inspiring, and probably eliciting of every possible emotional and mental state you can think of. This journey has been incredible and continues to be as I hone my ever imperfect ability to notice, encourage, appreciate, and simply be with more and more people’s true Self natures, including my own, whether I am working with them in my psychotherapy practice or simply engaging with others in my daily life.
I’m one of those people who when I need space to calm down and I clearly state this out loud in plain English, I need it promptly. It is no longer a request, but a basic expectation from my overwhelmed brain for the other party to back off and leave me alone. I can then return to the difficult discussion later, when I’m level-headed. That “later” may be in a short while or a long while, depending on the particular situation, topics(s) of concern, the other party’s own emotional state, etc. Once in a while, I have found this boundary I set to be difficult for some people to respect. Space, often not only the final, but very necessary, here-and-now frontier.
(I do so appreciate the bulk of people kindly allowing me space when I need it. And I am ever so glad to reciprocate this need for others.)
Earlier today, I wrote and sent out my first letter of amends and appreciation to someone from my distant past. They were a good teacher to me when I really needed compassion and support, which they gave out kindly and generously, among other things. But, at the time they were in my then quite troubled life, I do not recall expressing much, if any, genuine appreciation and sufficient respect for all they did for me. I let them know how I’ve grown aware of all this, thanked them from the depth of my heart, and apologized for my ingratitude back then.
A short while ago, I then sent an email to a long-time friend, apologizing for how callously I conducted myself with them over a particular matter early in our knowing each other. I thanked them for their patience and unwavering friendship through my sometimes difficult moods and opinions and apologized for taking them for granted so often. They were appreciative and stated they harbored no resentments. Still, I felt better for making amends.
While I’m not involved in a Twelve Step program, I have come to value and practice, as best I can, making amends where indicated. It’s all part of my ongoing healing path. Starting out in this still new year, I wish to act more accountable for how and when I wrong others (past and present) and, ultimately, to simply put more good will out into the universe. Ye gods, the world needs as much good will (including actions) as every one of us on Earth can possibly, fully give.
Recently, while watching Bruce Lee in the ridiculously dubbed movie FIST OF FURY (1972), I was reminded of how I’ve always found his graceful Kung Fu moves just as beautiful as the motions of a talented dancer.
For me, Bruce Lee (birth name Lee Jun-fan) came across as a real-life superhero when I was a child. Sadly, he died not long before I turned seven in the summer of 1973, shortly before I returned to the U.S.A. after a year abroad in Europe and Central America. I spent the next few years or so enjoying images of Bruce wherever I came across them, such as catching snippets of his movies on TV and coming across posters of him in stores or other people’s homes. I wish I could confidently remember the very first time I saw Lee on TV or in a photograph, but I can’t. It wouldn’t be until around aged thirty that I’d finally watch him as Kato in the 1960s campy TV series THE GREEN HORNET and then, still later, in a few cross-over episodes of BATMAN. Certain media celebrities and fantastical beings (such as Marilyn Monroe, Godzilla, or the mighty genie/djinn of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, for example), have a relatively clear touchstone memory of introduction into my world and psyche. It surprises me that Bruce Lee doesn’t.
There is a memory I have of being about nine years old and visiting a house where my father happened to be busy on a carpentry job. This was in Berkeley, California. It must have been on a weekend or an afternoon, after school. There before me in what seemed to be an entry room or hallway of the house hung a large poster of Bruce Lee, shirtless. His smooth and defined pecs and abs gleamed with sweat. His thick black hair and side burns framed his face, which held an expression of determination, focus, and defiance. I believe it was an enlarged still from his final completed movie ENTER THE DRAGON, released in 1973. Perhaps this is my initial touchstone memory of Mr. Lee, though I’m not at all certain. I sense that I knew about him even before this moment. It is possible that I’d heard talk of Bruce and already seen him in photos or briefly on TV at friends’ or neighbors’ homes. Anyway, I think my mother was standing right next to me during this deeply impressing moment. She explained, either right then or a little later, that Bruce Lee had died from “a stroke” a few years before, due to being too hard on his body. He had exercised too much, too harshly. At that time, I had never heard of this happening to someone. This man of incredible strength and agility, who looked so fit and healthy, had died suddenly from actual physical abuse to himself, like a master pushing a slave to keep laboring through their exhaustion. At least this is the sense I’m left with of how my parents explained what had tragically happened to him. The image of my father pretending to bang his head against a wall to demonstrate just how brutally Bruce practiced his discipline resurfaces in my mind here.
I felt sad for Mr. Lee, disappointed that I would never be able to meet this handsome man of such skill and grace. I have found that grief so often arises over the loss of potential, what could have been but wasn’t. I grieved over something that, for me, never existed, in this case, the possibility to follow with adoration the life of someone actually alive in the world. There I was, come to awareness too late of a great man long gone while also being too young to fully understand what I intuitively was appreciating. I would simply have to make do with treasuring whatever legacy Bruce Lee left behind– his movies, TV show appearances, photographs, and writings.
Life has a way of distracting and taking one’s focus elsewhere. I had frequent moves with my parents and subsequent adjusting to deal with, school to attend and homework to complete, and an imagination already filled with assorted imagery and other stimuli to keep me plenty occupied. Bruce Lee entered the labyrinth of my psyche, taking his place among many icons and magical beings. On occasion, he would be mentioned during play with childhood peers, where sometimes I pretended to be Mr. Lee fighting off villains, executing what I thought to be his trademark “flying kick” to fell evil men.
At around age twelve, I seized the opportunity to finally see Bruce Lee on the big screen. Having moved to the small Northern California city of Grass Valley by this time, I attended a screening of ENTER THE DRAGON put on by a local projectionist, who made it a point to show movies in town for a reasonable admission fee. I was entranced from beginning to end with the film, marveling at Lee’s incredible grace, agility, speed, strength, passion, and– though I dared not admit it to myself then– sweaty, lithe sexiness. In one scene, a supporting character in the drama musingly referred to him as a “human fly” while watching Bruce jump high up onto a rock wall and either proceed to scale it or walk with ease along its narrow edge. (Given this was over forty years ago, my memory of the actual imagery is not very clear. Regardless, it was some impressive feat of balance and strength evoking comparison to the fine movements of an insect.) His animal-like stances, leaps, punches, hand chops, and kicks relayed a super-human, aggressive form of dance, the intensity enhanced by his constant howling-like kiai’s/battle cries. Every time Bruce was on-screen I watched with rapt attention, captivated by such charisma.
What particularly both moved me yet also puzzled my naive pre-teen mind was Lee’s dramatic facial expressions, namely in one slow motion scene where he jumps upon a villain’s back, crushing it. The camera focuses on Bruce’s pain-filled visage, his eyes wide and mouth pulled back. The emotions of rage, anguish, sadness, perhaps also disbelief, pass through him like shifting lightning bolts captured on very slow film. Pure passion within such intense focus. I wondered what was actually going through his mind in this scene, both his own and the character’s he was portraying. That particular image of Lee’s face lingered in my thoughts for at least a few days. I never arrived at a clear answer to my wondering, but simply found peace around the not knowing. I came to realize that Lee was a complex person, driven yet thoughtful, with a profound ability to focus his will like a laser. My much later reading of a book he wrote about his actual life philosophy confirmed this impression. There, he stressed the importance of being both formless yet adaptive and flowing like water.
The union of beauty in form and movement, such as Bruce Lee’s, is special. Dance often relays this embodiment, succinctly stated by W.B. Yeats’ question, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?” According to Wikipedia, dance is defined as “a performing art form consisting of purposefully selected sequences of human movement. This movement has aesthetic and symbolic value.” Martial arts, including Bruce Lee’s invention of Jeet Kune Do, is considered to have a dance-like quality to it, because, though it is a fighting art with vanquishment of a perceived foe as a primary goal, there is also an aesthetic intent to its movements. Dance occurs mainly to evoke pleasure, wonder, even bliss in the viewer and/or participant. In regards to Bruce Lee and his film and television performances of Jeet Kune Do, he especially met the criteria of doing actual dancing in conjunction with displaying a fighting (warrior/martial) art. Since performance for viewers was primary, with actual defeat of opponents in combat scenes being fictional actions as a means to create entertainment, the aesthetic purpose of Lee’s martial art was pushed to the forefront for a worldwide audience, like what is done with dance. (More intimately, the truly martial aspect of his art was, of course, expressed through the actual classes he taught and his own personal practice. But, I am less concerned with that whole domain of Lee’s discipline here.) I have no doubt he performed his deft foot work, kicks, and strikes to evoke in viewers a sense of wonder and pleasure at the incredible grace emanating from his body. His on-screen opponents are partners in dance. They follow through on choreographed moves, as traditional dance techniques do, albeit explicitly driven by polarized aggression, with touches of erotic energy and intent more in the background, just enough to enhance keeping the opponents’ attention locked on each other. Conversely, traditional dance moves appear to stem more from a source of polarized, controlled erotic energy, the aggression aspect underplayed yet present as well, or sometimes even equally so to the erotic, depending on the dance style. Hence, dance and martial arts– certainly Jeet Kune Do as performance– can be viewed as two sides of the same coin, if not two neighboring sections on the same side. An end result for both of these different movement arts is a multi-dimensional– or form and movement united– expression of beauty, to be enjoyed by onlookers. Bruce Lee for me was and is like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire was to my grandparents and parents, masters of graceful movement through time and space, i.e., dance, immortalized on screen, while each looked wonderfully dapper in his unique ways. It is no wonder Mr. Lee developed such a following and maintains one to this day, attracting men and women alike for both similar and different reasons as fans experience for Kelly, Astaire, and other famous dancers.
Over a year after watching ENTER THE DRAGON, I started attending a local Jujitsu dojo (school). This Japanese martial art, which focused on avoiding aggression and deflecting attackers via using their own forceful energy against them as much as possible, could not have been more different than Bruce Lee’s explicitly aggressive Jeet Kune Do. For a time, Tyron, the tall, muscular, raven-haired Italian-American Sensei (teacher) at the dojo became somewhat super-imposed in my psyche with Bruce Lee. Before me on a weekly basis was a real-life, darkly handsome martial arts master who, on at least a few occasions, gave me extra attention in between classes. However, at thirteen and fourteen, I was too young and insecure to fully appreciate this man’s kind gestures. What else strikes me, though, about that two years-long experience of martial arts training was how the Sensei mentioned Bruce Lee on a few different instances while teaching us students. He compared styles of certain Jujitsu moves to Lee’s Jeet Kune Do ones, demonstrating how Bruce was a worthy, memorable influence in the overall field of martial arts. I warmed at these brief intersections of my inner world with outer life. Lee’s legacy really did live on(!).
It took me years to integrate my understanding of why and how I embraced Bruce Lee as such a worthy icon. Often, venerating beauty is initially a simple impulse, born of intuition and longing, like a budding flower opening to the sun. It simply feels right to do. Being attracted since childhood to an assortment of appealing, fascinating images, tales, and concepts borne out of the Near and Far East, Lee harmoniously fit within that matrix of my interests. How he stood out from all of this was that he was a man who had actually been alive in relatively recent times and possessed seemingly heroic powers. He represented a union of male beauty and strength, sheer power in pursuit of the greater good, channeled through perfecting his body and movement while deepening his mind. Paradoxically (and, hence, humanly), Lee pursued world stardom, an often selfish endeavor, while also generously developing and teaching others a philosophy of harmony through clearer thinking, being, and movement (like water). He was still early on in developing a healthy life path for others to further emulate or at least draw from, his movie and TV show appearances an expression of his public persona, one of beauty in form and movement. He apparently explained that his martial art was poetic metaphor for his philosophy. Cut down too young (aged 32) from cerebral edema, Lee’s loss was tragic, given his deep potential that he’d only just tapped and started sharing with the world. But, in my own way, I slowly took in what I could of Bruce Lee’s legacy of beauty and wisdom he left behind. And, now and then, I return to take in a bit more.
Yesterday, I listened for a bit to Terry Gross on her radio show “Fresh Air.” She was rebroadcasting segments of different interviews she conducted of people over the past year. I heard the one Terry did of Howard Stern last May. Now, this is a man who has put me off big-time with his sexism, crudeness, and narcissism, certainly not someone I ever voluntarily listened to. I remember hearing snippets of Stern’s radio show now and then several years ago due to others around me liking it, namely in two former workplaces. (Okay, I admit to finding something he said funny on *one* occasion that I can recall, about Tom Cruise and his then wife Katie Holmes. Otherwise, Stern grated on me.) And I certainly heard friends and family talk about him with understandable disdain.
So, I was heartened to hear what sounded like a relatively transformed Howard Stern talking openly to Terry Gross about him changing his nasty ways, thanks in significant part to entering psychotherapy some years back . While he didn’t directly apologize for his many years of sexism and self-centeredness on his show, he acknowledged how he has developed empathy and a clearer understanding of how his own narrow, sexist perspective was distorted and hurtful. He talked of saying things that have him “cringe” inside these days. He opened up about his grief-filled upbringing and how exploring it with compassion helped him to better understand the suffering of others, such as that of someone he interviewed, Stephen Colbert, who, like Stern, had a very depressed mother while growing up. He admitted to having narcissism and how it got in the way of him actually learning much from those he interviewed. Howard sounded sincere with his openness and insights. I was pleasantly surprised and even touched.
I’m certainly not about to start listening to Howard Stern on the radio. I honestly don’t feel interested at this time. And I don’t excuse him for his many years of crass, sexist, sensationalist on-air bombast. I don’t think Terry Gross– who I respect very much– does either. She rightfully, pointedly called Stern out on his disgusting, objectifying ways he spoke of women so often on his show. But, what I came away with after listening to this interview was a sense of both relief and hope. It is a relief to me when any prominent, powerful man in the public eye acknowledges his harmful behavior and develops insight, empathy, and compassion where little to none of any of these previously existed. I have no doubt Howard Stern still has a lot more healing and growing up to do, but I get the sense he is well on his way, however long that takes. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to his radio show to hear just how sincere and thorough he actually is with walking his talk. However, I imagine that, to some extent or other, Howard interviews from a softer, more listening place than he used to, like he says he does. (I suspect those of you who are mindful, can hold a broad perspective, and actually listen to him regularly can readily confirm or deny this.) Hope then arises in me that other men, and even other people in general, can and will change for the better even when wealth, privilege, and power tempt them into remaining complacent. Perhaps the Me Too movement is due some credit in this evolution of Howard Stern and, by extension, in other men, other people. I’ll quietly celebrate any positive change in someone, however small, wherever I come across it.
The fires in California are clearly wearing people’s patience thin, understandably. I have family and friends there. Over on Facebook, I just got blocked by a friend, who I’ve never met in person, who lives near one of these fires. This quickly happened after a mild disagreement arose between us about something quite minor. I expressed a short, mixed reaction on his page about a film he happens to like.
This now-former “friend” is a published author and man with whom I share a lot of sensibilities. I appreciate much of his perspective/worldview.
The loss is a small one and I suppose it can be argued it’s their loss more than mine. But, briefly, it admittedly hurts. (And I am all-too-familiar with over-reactivity.)
**Note to self: Breathe. We live in tense, often chaotic times. Remember to think and speak from compassion. Ultimately, most of us, if not all, are in this together.