September 22, 2008

As many people who know my writing can attest, I have a strong interest in Buddhist teachings. On the other hand, my dislike of anything dogmatic or doctrinal stops me from declaring myself to be of any one faith. This authorized biography of the 14th Dalai Lama is the latest in a series of books exploring the man behind the legend of Tibet's reincarnating spiritual leader.

DALAI LAMA--MAN, MONK, MYSTIC by Mayank Chhaya (Doubleday 2007)

Although this is an ‘authorized biography,’ it reads more like a political treatise on the state of occupied Tibet. No doubt this was part of the Dalai Lama’s reasoning behind authorizing the book as he heads into his later years after nearly 50 years of exile from his homeland—more fuel for a fire threatened with extinction on his death. The few solid glimpses of Tibet’s spiritual head are welcome here, but they’re no more revealing than much of the other material by and about him. If His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama comes across as god-like, it’s more through his lack of everyday human foibles than anything else. There’s little that’s magic here, as one might hope, but that’s to be expected from a writer whose introduction all but apologizes for having an interest in a religion whose main credo centres around reincarnation. It’s typical of a leftist humanist outlook that looks to the human intellect as the highest creative force in the universe—a vast mistake, as our current world state shows. If more people cared about the Dalai Lama’s teaching and less about China-occupied Tibet, we might solve many more of our problems.

September 16, 2008

Wow. If there’s anything I detest more than grant applications, I can’t think of it. I’ve spent the last week and a half applying for the National Screen Institute’s Features First program, which as its title suggests, is about the making of a first feature film. Mine is called Guilty Pleasures, a black comedy about non-identical twin brothers, Jean and Fausto, who produce Quebec’s favourite cooking show, Guilty Pleasures. When both men fall in love with their new Anglo assistant, a long-buried sibling rivalry comes to life. Like Erik Canuel’s Bon Cop, Bad Cop (which I watched this weekend for the first time), it’s a hybrid French-English script pitting the cultural differences of Canada’s two solitudes at each other’s throats. If I get into the program, it may get made. If I live through the application process.

September 7, 2008

Explain Please…

On Friday I traveled with my friend, painter Omel Masalunga, to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo NY. The Albright has one of the best collections of impressionist and modern art in North America. You’ll find almost every influential name between 1850 and 1950 represented there, with a number of well-known works to accompany them. Deservedly, it’s considered a treasure.

So what was that gathering outside the gallery on its back steps this Friday afternoon? There were a number of musicians, many of them drummers, as well as a bassist and a bagpiper. The music was a funky fusion of new and old world sounds that rose to an almost deafening roar while an upright piano was hoisted by crane over a baby grand. The crowd grew agitated as the upright was suspended for several suspenseful minutes.

Since this is America, I told myself, people will clap and cheer at the destruction. Sure enough, when the upright crashed onto the grand, the crowd roared with something like approval. Had it occurred in Canada, we would have laughed nervously to make sure we were seen getting the joke and then turned away with a sense of guilt at participating in something obscene and possibly even anti-art.

What made it all the more obscene, and personal—at least to me—is that the upright was a Kimbal spinet—my piano. Looking around, I spotted one other person who seemed to be experiencing the same moral conundrum I felt on being there. A three-year-old boy, perched on his father’s shoulders, had his fingers resolutely plugged into his ears for the entire event, removing them only after the destruction was largely over (apart from two demolitions experts further taking apart the pianos with sledgehammer and axe.)

I grew up in the ’60s, and understood—or at least felt I understood—the urge behind such anti-corporate, pro-environment acts as the destruction of cars by groups like The Who. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but attacking that specific aesthetic made sense to me, while this failed to register as a statement of anything worthwhile or even comprehensible. Explain?


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