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Sunday
Aug282011

The Tao of RVing

Lunch in Grand Tetons National ParkGo slow.  That’s the first maxim of RV life.  Never be in a hurry to get anywhere.  Partly because you can’t be.  I pushed our 24’ Coachmen Class C to 80 a few times going down hills but by and large going 55-60 was as fast as I wanted to go.  This helps of course with gas mileage.  But going fast, being in a hurry to get somewhere, is contrary to the spirit of RVing. 

The primary purpose of an RV is not to get from Point A to Point B.  The primary purpose of an RV is to ENJOY getting from Point A to Point B.  The best way to do that is to go slow and be open to making discoveries along the way.  We did this.  With consistent resolve.  Personally, I want to stop at every scenic overlook and historical marker.  This can become an irritant if you’re not enamored of views, afraid of heights, wanting to get on with it.

The Tao of RVing comes down to balancing whatever’s most needed or wanted in each and every moment with what presents itself as an opportunity.  Choices become less agenda driven and more circumstantially based. 

“Oh, there’s a nice looking wifi café.  Let’s stop and do some work.” 

“This is a beautiful rest stop/state park/scenic overlook.  Let’s stop for a hike and a meal.” 

“I’m tired.  There’s Walmart.  Let’s go to bed.” 

“OMG, what a cool outdoor swimming pool!  I’m going in!”

Sure, many decisions are still driven by needs.  But much less often.   The other times they’re driven simply by wants referencing what appears.  We didn’t stop at every Sonic we saw.  But we certainly visited a few. 

I find this immensely freeing.  What sets me free on the road is not a matter of escaping the routines of home and work, it’s escaping a life driven by agenda.  “I must do this.  I must do this.  Now I must do this…”  Ad infinitum.  Freedom’s not another word for nothing left to lose.  It’s another word for nothing left to gain. It’s entering a new expanse of mind.  When I start to hold loosely if not outright abandon the agendas I hold, I receive a breadth of ease that is otherwise unattainable.  “If I don’t call this guy back by 6 pm tonight our deal is off.”  Maybe.  Or maybe that’s just what you tell yourself.  Calling him back in a day or two might not be so bad, in fact it might give you more time to reflect on what needs to be done.   Meanwhile, you can enjoy a walk by this beautiful lake…

Now my only challenge is to continue the Tao of RVing while back home sitting at my desk.

 

Monday
Aug222011

Living in an RV makes you see the world in new ways

The Writer & Captain Trips Leaving in their RVLiving in an RV makes you see the world in new ways.  All those familiar and largely nauseating landmarks of American culture suddenly loom up in new ways:

ü  McDonald’s = bathrooms!

ü  Starbucks = remote offices!

ü  Walmart = free hotels!

ü  Gas stations = tithing depots!

But after 50 years of adventure travel (read: “roughing it”) traveling in an RV has introduced me to a whole new level of comfort:

ü  Caught in a bad rainstorm?  Just pull over, make your favorite cup of tea, and wait it out.  Or, don’t wait it out and enjoy your hot tea while you drive on.

ü  Hungry after a long, dusty horseback ride?  Pour yourself a cool one from the fridge. Fire up the generator and make some quesadillas.  Do all this and never leave the parking lot.

ü  Tired and dirty after a long day’s hike?  Enjoy a long, rejuvenating hot shower – and yes, do it from the parking lot at the trailhead if you want.  Then change into some nice clothes and go for a fancy dinner at Yellowstone Lodge.

ü  Thirsty for nice drink while you drive?  Grab some ice, mix the seltzer and juice, maybe slice in some lemon, then enjoy it from the cockpit while you drive through glorious remote mountains.

ü  Enlarged prostate? Weak bladder?  No worries – whenever nature calls you can pull over.   Your bathroom is always with you.  

ü  Back hurt?  Need a break?  Shut off the engine and stretch out in the back and snooze on your queen mattress.  Your bed is always made.

ü  Too hot?  Turn on the air conditioning.  Too cold? Turn on the heat.  Too hot or cold while sleeping?  Take off or put on another blanket. 

ü  Need a change of clothes, a different pair of shoes?  Just go to the closet and grab what suits you.

ü  Need the internet?  Park outside a library or Starbucks and go to work on your table in your traveling office.

You are the Master of your Universe!  (Were the first Imperialists RVers?)

No more tents blown over by strong wind.  No more removing rocks and twigs in the middle of the night from under your mattress pad. No more being confined by cramped sleeping bags.  No more holes and tears in sleeping bags.  No more wet sleeping bags.   No more sleeping bags period!

Heaven, I’m in Heaven…

 

 

 

Saturday
May282011

What's your life plan?

Wednesday I attended the graduation of 28 8’th graders from the Lifeplan Institute Training at Mount Tam High School in Mill Valley, CA.  One young teen after another got up in front of the assembled parents and teachers and proudly proclaimed: This is my dream; these are my values; these are my short and long-term goals; these people are my Board of Directors – my guides and confidantes...  It was inspiring.  More than the 3 r’s, more than standardized testing, more important even than the classes so dear to my heart like music, art, PE, and theater, these are the paramount lessons every child in America needs to learn.  Connecting adolescents to their deepest passion, their deepest values, their greatest vision, their truly limitless capacities…  This is the way - the only way that I know - that no child will truly be left behind.

Nothing is more important to me than rites of passage and mentorship of young people.  I see the two as equal halves of one unified whole.  I tend to think of mentoring relationships as something akin to alchemy.  We already know the rudiments of success: more listening than talking on the part of mentors, more blessing and acknowledgment than criticism, asking questions more than giving answers, modeling rather than teaching, showing rather than telling, regularity and consistency more than thrills and chills, being authentic…  But short of shepherding a young person through their own rite of passage, ritually launching them forth into adulthood, there are no mechanisms, no roadmaps for doing this.  Til now.    

Andy Mecca and his team, leaders in California and nationally in the campaign to institutionalize mentorship, have created a mentorship curriculum.   The only one I know of.  Their audacious, commendable and achievable goal is to reach 10 million children in ten years with LifePlan. 

What is your Life Plan?  If you’re lucky, like me, you’ve cobbled one together through years of careful observation of others and an exhaustive process of elimination.  And if you’re really lucky you’ve had a rite of passage that taught you what your mission in life is.  But what of the young people you know?  Who’s helping them find their Life Plan?  Are you?

Tuesday
Mar292011

Best Spiritual Documentary 2011!

European Film Festival Award for Best Spiritual Documentary 2011

My good friend Kathleen reading my speech.

At the European Spiritual Film Festival in Paris last night we won our first festival prize!  Best Spiritual Documentary 2011.   Here is the speech that was read by my friend Kathleen at the awards ceremony.

"I want to thank the European Spiritual Film Festival for this recognition.  I’m delighted that this story of the people of Zanskar touched your hearts.   They certainly touched mine. 

Please consider yourselves duly appointed ambassadors of Zanskar.  You can go right now to SaveZanskar.org and offer assistance to the monks to complete their school.  You can visit our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, sign up to receive email updates on our website WarriorFilms.org… Please let your families and friends know about the film.  In these days of media saturation, pummeled by stories of horror and messages of cynicism, please take heart and be of good cheer.  Know that we can follow the lead of the Zanskaris and find peace in the pursuit of simple, worthy ends.   Thank you."

Sunday
Feb202011

What’s up, movie doc?

 

What used to be considered a cinematic documentary and what used to be considered a TV documentary have now reversed places in the popular culture.  Due to the abdication of TV journalism nowadays people go to the cinema for news.

When I grew up it was common to find good investigative journalistic documentaries on TV.  I remember “The Selling of the Pentagon” which CBS broadcast in prime time in 1971.   Though its critique of the military-industrial complex was by no means commonplace, the program was absolutely in keeping with TV’s standards and practice of investigative journalism of the time.  Where are you going to find a program like that on TV today?  You don’t.  You go to the movies and watch Michael Moore.

The success of Michael Moore and Davis Guggenheim and Alex Gibney and Robert Greenwald and so many other documentary makers today can be attributed at least partly to the default of TV journalism.  As corporate power over TV networks grew – an ever shrinking number of ever greater sized corporations controlling ever greater numbers of media outlets – the reach of investigative TV journalism shrank.  Their standards shrank and their willingness to confront state and corporate power shrank.  First the major commercial networks stopped.  The non-pay cable channels never had the budgets or gumption to pick up the slack.  The last gasp, PBS, largely stopped investigative journalistic docs in the mid-90s following a previous wave of Republican attacks.  So what you used to see as standard TV has almost exclusively become the province of cinema.

Now when you want to hear an alternative political opinion, when you want to see an investigative report on the possibility of fraud in the 2000 election, on global warming, on electric cars, on medical care, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Wall Street… you go to the movies and pay money for the privilege.  I can’t think of a single other country where this same dynamic exists.  Perhaps somewhat in Canada where state-run media has been unfunded in recent years, though not nearly as severely as the U.S.  Certainly not in Europe where these kinds of programs are still considered the exclusive domain of TV.  (For years common logic had it that Europeans won’t even go to the theaters to watch documentaries.  In the past 10-15 years that’s shifted slightly, but not because of the abdication of journalistic TV docs.)

Think about it.  What used to be brought into your home for free now you go out and pay for.  (Or stay home and pay for on Netflix or, occasionally, on HBO.)   Back before the deregulation of media industries, back before corporations were re-affirmed in their “rights” as “individuals” to free speech, back before the erosion of civil liberties protecting free speech for real individuals, when the public ownership of airwaves and bandwith was a commonly acknowledged cultural value necessary to sustain a great democracy, when edification by TV was considered as meaningful a priority as entertainment by TV, it was a popular cultural axiom that TV might actually live up to its advance billing as part of the 4th Estate – the guarantor of informed citizenry.  Were it only so today.

This cultural sea change has also fostered an accompanying set of aesthetic differences.  What used to be considered a journalistic TV aesthetic is now considered cinematic: interviews,  (endless interviews!), experts, narration (especially first person), fast editing, lower production values (poor sound, shaky camera images, flat colors), information, argumentation, charts, graphs, maps, talk, talk, talk…  Were they to form today there’s no one who would get the foundational irony of the name of the band Talking Heads.

This is not to say that these films are often not very well made and very important.  Given the dearth of journalistic docs on TV and the general supplanting of real news with infotainment, with pundits yelling at each other and bullies and comics ruling political discourse, they’re perhaps more important today than TV docs were 40 years ago.  They’re oases in political deserts.  And many of them are supremely inventive.  One of my favorites, and an early benchmark in this genre, is Manufacturing Consent.  For me the film revolutionized how complex intellectual arguments could be made suspenseful and visually arresting.

But with the ascendency of journalistic docs in theaters cinematic docs are hardly given a place anymore.   What do I mean by cinematic?  Lingering long shots - like landscapes – slower paced editing, complex sound layering, subtleties, even contradictions, of story and character, and above all narrative.   Even the best documentaries in theaters today are polemics.  They’re arguments for a specific position, often political or ideological.  Rare are the ones that simply want to tell an interesting story.  Much rarer is it to find the ones leaving you to decide what the story means.    

Look at Werner Herzog.  If ever a filmmaker deserved the big movie screen canvas it’s him.  Yet even his films live theatrically for the briefest of times, if at all, before heading to TV. 

This has also been true for my most recent film Journey from Zanskar.  One Canadian film critic called it “shockingly old-fashioned,” seemingly due to the” problems” of 3rd person narration and the strong but simple story.  One programmer for a prominent NYC art house thought the film “too TV” to book in their theater.  In fact, the thesis of this entire blog was born out to me the week after she turned the film down when she instead booked Inside Job.  (Please – no need to write in and defend the Charles Fergusons, et al.  Again, I’m passing judgment on the style and trendiness of the films they make, not their quality or importance.) 

Given today’s inverted values I can’t help but think that were Hoop Dreams released today it would never be given a chance in theaters.