Enter Zen

Master Gensha (831-908)

Monk: Where can I enter Zen?
Gensha: Can you hear the babbling brook?
Monk: Yes, I can hear it.
Gensha: Then enter there.

Zen To Go
Compiled and Edited by Jon Winokur

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“I couldn’t wait for success so I went ahead without it.”

–Jonathan Winters, comedian

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Blossoming cherry
mysterious evening light
how soft, this spring breeze!

Forbidden City, Republic of Korea

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On Leadership

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

—Maya Angelou

The Words of Extraordinary Women
Selected by Carolyn Warner

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Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Gloria Grahame

You may or may not know Gloria Grahame, the actress whose sultry good looks made her a natural fit for the “bad girl” in the film noir movies of the forties and fifties. She was twice nominated for an Academy Award and won the Oscar for her work in The Bad and the Beautiful. In portraying her, Annette Bening delivers a riveting performance as a faded film star living out her last success, her last love affair, and her last days.

The film is based on Peter Turner’s memoir, the young actor who became her lover and then, two years later, found himself torn between respecting Grahame’s wish to keep her illness secret and his mother’s insistence that Gloria needed to be with her own family before it was too late to say good-bye.

The film opens in a London dressing room, where Grahame is putting on her make up, preparing to go on stage. It is 1979, and she is starring as Amanda in Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie. She rises, puts on the flowery house dress that is her costume, checks herself in the mirror, then suddenly crumples to the floor, clutching at the pain that will finally kill her.

The previews of this film looked so dark that I was reluctant to see it. As it turns out, the director Paul McGuigan moves deftly between dark and light, present and past and back again. A series of subtle edits take us from Liverpool to London, Hollywood, New York, and then back to Liverpool. My trust in Annette Bening paid off; she chooses excellent material and never fails to deliver, no matter what the role. To my mind, Hollywood has never fully appreciated Bening. (I still don’t understand why the Academy didn’t give her the Best Actress Oscar for her wickedly fine performance as Julia in Being Julia.)

Bell and Bening

Peter Turner is played by Jamie Bell, best remembered by most of us as Billy Elliott, the boy who had to dance. Here he is all grown up, with the same odd face and burning intensity that he mostly keeps under lock and key. In a wonderful scene where Grahame and Peter first meet, she asks him if he’s seen the movie Saturday Night Fever. He has seen it—three times.

“So you like disco dancing?”

“I like drunk dancing,” he says.

She offers to make him a drink in exchange for a dance—she needs a partner for her dance class. She leaves the door to her place open and he walks in. She turns up the music—”Boogie Oogie Oogie”—and they start moving. Annette Bening can dance, yes. But Jamie Bell takes disco dancing to a whole other level, going at it with the same ferocity we saw in Billy Elliott.

In an ironic bit of casting, Julie Walters, who played Billy’s teacher in Billy Elliott, plays his mother in this film. She is the heart and soul of a family that loves Peter and takes Gloria in as one of their own. She acts as caretaker when Gloria’s illness is unraveling her will to keep the truth at bay.

For the most part, I was completely immersed in the character Annette Bening was playing. But toward the end, when we see the same scene played from a different viewpoint, I pulled back and simply admired an actor who is a master of her craft. I was amazed at Bening’s transformations; at times she’s a glamorous and supremely confident movie star, then she strips herself bare to reveal a woman who is frail, aging, afraid.

Annette Bening at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association press conference for the movie “Mrs. Harris.” Photo by: Yoram Kahana_Shooting Star.

You will need to take the whole ride to understand the full import of the film’s title, but it is well worth the journey. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is engaging, entertaining, and unexpectedly moving. In recording his memories of Gloria Grahame, Peter Turner has given us a loving tribute to the woman he loved. In the end, he is the one person who knows her best, and understands how a star wants to make her exit.

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America in August

On this Independence Day, there are red, white, and blue
Flags everywhere; parades and fireworks and words, words and thoughts
And ideas about our nation are being written and recorded and spoken.
My words for this day are about America in August and no, I am not
Skipping ahead, I am going back to August 2016, to the last summer
Of the last year that Barack Obama was our President.

It was August 4th, Barack’s birthday, and that evening I was at
A baseball game at Goss Stadium on the Oregon State University campus.
I was there with my one and only and maybe three thousand other people,
Give or take a few. It was a perfect night for baseball, warm, with a soft
Breeze after the sun started down. Almost all of us were there for our Corvallis
Knights and we sang the national anthem and rooted for the home team and
Between innings there were quick competitions for the kids out on the field
And once or twice the mascots threw free tee shirts to the section that could
Make the most noise. At the seven-inning stretch we sang
Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and the away team gave it their all
But the Knights won and that was great, especially because this was
The last game of the season. Most of us stayed in our seats and waited
A few minutes until all the lights dimmed and it was a pitch-black night,
Then, fireworks! Brilliant bright lights and flashing white, blue, gold,
Red, green, and silver shooting up and shimmering down.

We cheered and applauded and the lights came on,
And a voice over the loudspeaker said, come on out kids,
Come on out to the field if you want, and they did, a hundred or more kids
Of all sizes and ages, all of them playing and jumping and shouting,
Most of them running ‘round and ‘round the bases fast as they could.
I was watching them and thinking about Barack, how he would love this,
All these kids safe and happy and loved. This was the America he wanted
For everyone, the America he worked for and toward every single day.

I implore you now to recall your own best and most beautiful memories
Of our America, because we need a memory of goodness to take us through
The pain of children torn from their parents and locked away.
That misery of families broken apart was done in our name, in our country,
The rock that was America, crumbling day-by-day toward a gray dust of autocracy.
Before the dust has seeped into every place and pore and chokes us, turn, please,
Turn to the ocean of love and goodness that has been there through the ages.

Even when we screwed it up badly and still do, there are thousands and
Millions of us who believe in a better America. Gather that goodness
Now, remember the America you believe in and want. Let us not allow
The lies and mendacity to overtake us, let us turn the tide. Remember the good
That has been our country and that can be again; let us make America
Sane again and safe, safe for the kids, the parents, the old and the young,
Whatever their color or race or creed or no creed, remember and
Sing an America that is sane, and safe, safe for us all.

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Maybe that’s the power of words—
to show us how puny they are in the face
of everything they attempt to say.
And maybe that’s why poets write,
to show the power of our powerlessness
in a storm at sea.

—Roger Rosenblatt

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Oh Wow These Women: Ocean’s 8

Yes, it’s true—I went to this movie for the women, and oh wow do they deliver.

I’m a big fan of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway, and the cast list of Ocean’s 8 also includes Helena Bonham Carter, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Awkwafina, and Mindy Kaling, thank you very much. Gary Ross, who made his directorial debut with another favorite film of mine, Pleasantville, directed and co-wrote this escapade into the world of the big con combined with high fashion and fabulous jewels.

I watched at least six previews before the main attraction and—with one exception—they were all extremely violent, including the comedy that blended in with all the other action-adventure-the-darkness-is-upon-us and there’s no way out except to fight, fight, fight to the bitter end. What a relief to spend two hours with smart, sexy women pulling off a great big diamond heist. No guns, no cars crashing, no buildings exploding—just a diamond necklace worth $150,000,000, locked up in a vault five stories underground, and one woman determined to steal it.

That one woman is Sandra Bullock, who portrays Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean (AKA George Clooney). She was double-crossed by her con-man lover and ended up spending five years, eight months and twelve days in prison, time she dedicated to planning the Big Steal. Once out and about in New York City, she shows off her con skills by scoring some luxury items from Bergdorf Goodman. She then finagles a hotel suite where she can wash away the prison blues.

Relaxed and refreshed, she begins contacting the women who will comprise her high-theft team, beginning with her long-time friend and partner, Cate Blanchett. There’s a lot of wry humor in their scenes together, with Bullock locked on to her diamond necklace dream and Blanchett bringing her back to earth with reminders of all the obstacles and reasons why this could all go horribly wrong. As they locate the women with the know-how to steal a million-dollar-plus necklace in full view of all the rich and beautifully dressed people at the Met Gala, we see each woman’s quirks and particular skills, every one absolutely essential to making this heist work.

One reviewer who was not overly impressed with this movie said these talented women deserved a script with more complex characters. While it’s true these women are capable of playing complex characters, the script that reviewer wants would be another movie entirely, and I’m sure it would have sunk like a stone. Ocean’s 8 has a deft touch. It sets exactly the right tone. It gives us just enough and no more—because anything more would have muddied the whole picture. To quote Christy Lemire, it is “flat-out fun” and, for my money, more entertainment than all the super-hero movies currently to be found at your local cineplex.

This movie is a real time-out from the awful realities we are living with day-to-day, and I was grateful for it. I enjoyed the sheer impossibility of the plan, marveled at the ingenuity of these women as they dealt with unexpected complications, and loved the surprise at the end—a bravura turn that was icing on top of an already-gorgeous cake. If you want more details before purchasing your ticket, I highly recommend Christy Lemire’s review at Roger Ebert’s site . Lemire went with this movie in the same way I did, and she writes really well. Other than that, all I can say is get your popcorn and settle in for a sweet, rockin’ ride with Debbie Ocean and Company.

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Wabi Sabi

“Wabi means spare, impoverished; simple and functional. It connotes a transcendence of fad and fashion. The spirit of wabi imbues all the Zen arts, from calligraphy to karate, from the tea ceremony to Zen archery.”

Zen To Go, Edited by Jon Winokur

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I have been studying physics
trying to comprehend
string theory, dark matter,
and Michio Kaku’s parallel worlds.

I comprehend so little,
but I have learned this:
you and I, that fellow there,
and the woman with the rainbow hair,
every single one, yes,
each of us,
all of us,
we are all,

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